Friday, December 9, 2011

City Charter Author has the First Ideas

Joe Kirby was one of the original authors of the City Charter drafted in 1994. At the November 30th City Charter Commission meeting he telephonically submitted two charter revision ideas for ballot consideration.

The first idea was a little vague but he essentially commented on the city council's role in this form of government and that it was meant to be a part-time policy making body who was supposed to invest no more than 10 to 15 hours per week on policy making city business. He cited the recent action by the city council to require all contracts be approved by the city council as evidence that the city council was moving into the mayor's administrative duties under the charter.

The issue of the roles of the mayor and the city council have been a battle ground since the adoption of the city charter in 1994. The City Attorney is legal advisor to the mayor and the city council. It is the job of the city attorney to protect the language in the city charter and not allow politics to contravene the meaning of the roles of the mayor and city council as set out by charter. 

The problem is the city attorney, can at times, be under strong influence of the mayor and forget that he/she serves BOTH bodies and should remain neutral and protect the provisions of the city charter as it relates to the roles of the mayor and city council. The city attorney needs to remain above the fray, but it is difficult. That is hard to do when the mayor picks the city attorney for appointment. Yes, the appointment is subject to advice and consent of the city council but history has shown that the mayor's appointment is gold and this position has become very political.

The city attorney and the office staff of attorneys provide daily legal advice to the mayor and the city departments regarding city administration business. It is an inherent problem with this form of government and has resulted in the city council, at various times over the years, talking about hiring their own attorney. The mayor and directors need someone to rely on for day-to-day legal advice regarding administration business.

How you legislate behavior, though, is nigh onto impossible. I don't think the city charter adequately envisions the dual role when the city attorney works primarily for the administration. It puts the city attorney in a very difficult position at times, especially when the mayor and the city council are at odds.  Maybe the language in the city charter relating to the city attorney needs some fixing.

The second idea from Joe Kirby relates to the mayoral runoff provisions. Kirby essentially wants to suggest language that minimizes the spoiler effect, kind of like what happened in the 2010 race. The fact is you are always going to have a spoiler effect when you have a very large pool of mayoral candidates who split the vote. I say tough patootie. Like it or not, the top 2 vote getters deserve to be in the runoff. The voters should have the final say and rank choice voting kind of sounds like cooking the pot to me.  A large field of mayoral candidates could cause a surprise runoff, but so be it.

Two ideas worthy of discussion in the city charter debate.


  1. Curious, how would Kirby propose to minimize the Spoiler Effect? I am sorry, but if the one candidate can not garner any or many of the votes from the others, then the second candidate deserves to win. No?

  2. The idea that a council member only needs to work 10 - 15 hours a week is a fine assumption for those that are experienced with government. However a newly elected councilor will struggle to do a good job with that schedule, especially the first year of understanding budgeting and fund accounting.

  3. The real problem is not the number of hours they work, but rather that they want to manage small issues rather than large ones. Former Council Member Casey Murschel understood this. She got the Parks Plan passed. Then the Park Department had to follow it. Two Councilors are now occupied leading a study of how many chickens should be allowed in a residential backyard. Really.

  4. The real problem is that Joe Kirby needs to mind his own f'ing business. Why wasn't he at the meeting the other day? Because he was soaking up rays in his other residence in California. Good for him. But let's set the record straight. Wanna do something about city government? #1 Live here. #2 become an elected official.

    As for runoff elections, I think they are silly. Number one vote getter wins. Done deal. That's how it works in pie cook offs and primaries. If we would have done that in the last election, we would have a much better mayor right now and we would be $115 million dollars richer.