Election vs. Appointment of City Recorder and Judge

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Charter Review Committee

White Paper on Election vs. Appointment of City Recorder and Municipal Judge

Date: January 2005

Sub Committee Member(s): Kate Culbertson, John Enders

Issue Statement:

Should the City Recorder and the Municipal Judge continue to be elective positions rather than change to appointive positions? (Corollary Issue: Should the formula for computing salaries of both public officials be removed from the charter?)

Background:

Recorder: Election of city recorders in Oregon formerly was more commonplace. Most are now appointed. The Ashland City Recorder is the city "clerk," and also the city "treasurer." S/he ensures that public meetings and records laws are followed, proper administrative processes followed, oversees banking and handling of cash and investments for the city, and ensures city officials perform under municipal contracts. The Recorder, along with the Director of Finance, are designated as "investment officers" for the city under review of the Council.

The City Recorder is the city elections officer, overseeing nominations and filing procedures, contribution and expenditure reports, etc. Under state law, the organization of elections and the counting of votes are performed by the County Clerk. Under the present City Charter, the City Recorder is the only full-time elected city official. Under the charter's Article 6, Section 3, the Recorder may be removed for "willful absence of the Recorder from the City for more than thirty (30) days without the consent of the Council, carelessness or inattention to the duties of the Recorder."

Election of the City Recorder provides citizens an elected official independent of the mayor and council from whom they can seek information. Such independence allows the recorder to be free of political interference or pressures from other city officials; s/he answers only to the voters. This is particularly true regarding elections issues.

Judge: The election of city judge in a small city is rare, if not unique. The Ashland Municipal Judge hears cases involving all misdemeanors not associated with felonies, and infractions of city ordinances. The term is four years, and commonly the post is held by a practicing attorney. There is no requirement that the Municipal Judge be a resident of the city; that could be an issue the citizens of Ashland would want to examine.

Salaries: Salaries of both elected officials are set under a formula set in the charter. The year 1974 is the base year, and salaries increase annually based on the "average" increase for other supervisory staff. The City Recorder's salary in 2005 is $64,332. The Municipal Judge's salary in 2005 is $43,716.

Pros and Cons:

City Recorder:

Pros- An elected City Recorder gives the citizens more direct influence over city government and an elected official not answerable to the Mayor, Council or administration. While the Recorder's position often involves on-the-job training, there is substantial support through a statewide recorders association.

Cons-The City Recorder position is more complex today than in the past, and involves technical knowledge and expertise that an elected official might not have. There is the possibility that an unqualified or inappropriate candidate for the position would seek and obtain the position. (Such also is the case with an appointed Recorder, however).

Municipal Judge:

Pros: Election of the Municipal Judge provides for a separation of powers of the judicial branch of city government from the executive (mayor) and legislative branches (council). An elected Judge connects the city to its citizens; local minor offenses are heard locally, and the community retains more control over local justice. Justice is based on local "community standards," which can vary dramatically between communities. The state court system is overburdened and could not properly absorb the extra load. An elected Judge can better withstand political pressures.

Cons: The municipal judge hears relatively minor cases. The current charter does not require the judge to be a resident of the city. His/her work could be done by a circuit judge (state) or a justice of the peace (county). There is the possibility that an unqualified or inappropriate candidate for the position would seek and obtain the position. (Such also could be the case with an appointive person as well).

(Salary issue: Retaining the salary formula in the charter allows the recorder and the judge to be independent from the mayor and council. If the salaries were set by the city budget committee, it would undermine the political independence of those two officials).

Budget Implications: If the municipal judge's judicial workload were taken over by the county courts, the city could reduce its expenses, unless the county charged back to the city the judicial costs. There are no apparent budgetary differences in whether the municipal judge and recorder are appointive versus elected; presumably their salaries would be the same in either case. The election of the two officials would add additional costs to the city only if they were elected during a special election; regular elections are paid for by the county.

Summary:

The Charter Committee should decide whether to recommend leaving the City Recorder and Municipal Judge as elected positions and having their powers clearly defined in a new City Charter; leaving them as elected officials but defined by city ordinance rather than in the charter; or recommending a change to appointive positions. There also is the possibility of contracting with the county to handle municipal court cases, effectively abolishing the judgeship. The committee also should deliberate and hear input on whether one or both positions, if they are changed to appointive, should be filled by the mayor and council or by the city administrator/manager.

Regarding salaries, the committee should examine the possibility of establishing a new formula for determining City Recorder and Municipal Judge salary levels, and removing that from the charter.

Resources consulted:

Model Charter, National Civic League; Model Charter, League of Oregon Cities; Roy Bashaw; Kathy Shaw; Brian Almquist; Alan Drescher; Barbara Christensen, etc.

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