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Tom Sponslor/City Council Meeting

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Charter discussion with Tom Sponsler and City Council

December 14, 2005
Siskiyou Room

1175 E. Main Street



Morrison, Chapman, Hardesty, Jackson, Amarotico, Silbiger, Hartzell

Grimaldi, Seltzer






Tom Sponsler


Mayor Morrison called the meeting to order at 5:00 p.m.


Charter consultant Tom Sponsler was introduced and gave a brief overview of his background and work on city charters and the Oregon model charter.


He explained that the model charter is a starting point for cities and while some cities adopt it directly, many cities add unique components to their charter that relate to their community. 


Over time state law has restricted the legal authority that cities have so the model charter has evolved to reflect the legal authority that can be exercised by a community under the state constitution.  A charter says ďwhatever legal authority we can have, we want to haveĒ.  The charter defines who has that authority and how it is exercised.  Voters hold the council accountable and the council holds the manager or administrator responsible.


Including the manager/administrator duties in the charter focuses the attention on that person and clearly shows what he is accountable for and what voters expect of that position.  To include those duties in an ordinance or resolution means that the council, not the voters, determines what those duties are and what the position is accountable for and means that the duties can change whenever the council decides to modify the ordinance.


Most charters include a city manager which recognizes the complexities of running a city.  Even small cities need someone with the appropriate skills to manage the organization.  Only Beaverton and Portland have an elected Mayor who acts as the city manager.


Sponsler reviewed Ashlandís charter and said it is woefully out of date.


Council members asked questions of Sponsler.


Morrison:         Can you explain the delineation of specific powers within a charter?

Sponsler:          The delineation of specific powers within a charter helps to avoid conflict.  Conflict can occur between a Mayor and the rest of the council, between members of the council and between the council or Mayor and the city manager/administrator.  A charter cannot make up for political issues and personality problems but it can make it easier to resolve or address conflict when it is clear in the charter what the responsibilities are and who is accountable.  With regards to legislation only the council can exercise legislative authority, it cannot delegate that authority to a manager or to the Mayor.  The council as a body has the ultimate authority.  Each individual councilor can try to influence others and can draft ordinance but only the majority of the council can pass/adopt that ordinance.


Conflict most often surfaces through administrative authority.  Administrative authority is either defined in the charter or defined in an ordinance.  When the administrative authority is defined in an ordinance, the authority is subject to change when a different council comes in.  When it is defined in the charter the duties and accountability are supported by the voters and can only be changed by the voters.  It is very clear and not subject to change by the council.  A council can add to the administrative authority beyond what is defined in the charter but it cannot reduce the authority defined in the charter.


Jackson asked Sponsler to comment on practice of the Mayor being able to hire and fire department heads.


Grimaldi gave the following example of why this is not a good idea:  Assume the Mayor has power to hire and fire department heads.  If there is conflict between council members and the Mayor and the Mayor is going in one direction and the council in another, the Mayor could align himself with a given department head or all department heads and give direction that supports his position not the councilís and thereby undermine the council.  Giving that power totally to the Mayor you donít have a check and balance system.


Sponsler:  The theory of including city manager duties in the charter is that it focuses the responsibility of the manager, including the hiring and firing of department heads and everyone understands it.  The citizens understand it.  If there is a problem with the Manager you go to the council and the council looks to the manager if there is a problem of any kind in the departments.  The city staff knows that the manager is between the staff and council.  The buck stops with the manager.  If a department head can go to the Mayor or a councilor it tends to dilute the managers responsibility and leads to confusion of who is responsible for what.  Language could be inserted that the city manager hires and fires department heads subject to the approval of the council.  Council could not initiate the hiring or firing but council approval could be required once the manager initiates the process.


Chapman:  It seems there must be a partnership between the Manager and the Mayor but the language in the model charter does not specify what that partnership is.


Sponsler:  A Mayorís duties are not that much different then council members other than he facilitates the meetings and is likely to have a greater presence in the community and at city hall.  In Ashland the Mayor does not have a vote which is not the usual practice.  The perception is that the Mayor has greater authority than is actually the case.


The manager and the Mayor must get along because they do work closely together.  When the relationship is working nicely there are rarely problems, when they arenít the manager or the rest of the council might work around the mayor.  It is a not a good idea for one member of the council, in this case the Mayor, to be privy to information that the rest of the council does not have.  All members should be getting the same information.


Mayor explained that the council decided it wanted Sponsler to draft a new charter that reflects the recommendations of the CRC and then a separate document that explains the duties of the manager.


Sponsler felt that that is easy to do and will prepare the two documents requested.


There was some discussion on whether the manger should be included in the draft charter or as a separate measure.  Sponsler explained that if the council wants it to be in the charter it should be included in the draft.  If council does not want the city manager in the charter then present it as a separate measure for voters to decide.  It is a political decision not a legal decision.


The council will see a draft charter without the city manager duties and see the city manager duties as a separate measure.  The council will review those documents at a special meeting on January 12. 


Hardesty expressed that he doesnít like the idea of the Mayor voting explaining that it is like the President going down to congress and voting. 


Sponsler explained that this is a common misunderstanding of local government.  The Mayor does not have separate powers from the council; the Mayor is a member of the council.  The President has separate powers from the congress and a governor has separate powers from state legislature.  The council as a body has the authority but not the Mayor as an individual.  There is no separation of powers at a local level.


The theory of a city council under the model is that there are five or seven members and the mayor is one of them.  The mayor presides over the meetings but does not have anymore power than any single member of the council.


Hartzell asked if having the city manager in the charter would change the role of the council in regards to communicating with staff.  Sponsler replied that the structure shouldnít change that.  Under any charter individuals councilors are entitled to information and have communication with staff but they do not have the authority to direct staff to do things.  Only the full council can direct staff.


Sponsler explained that there is a provision in the model charter that prohibits council from trying to coerce the manager in an appointment or removal of any city employee or in administrative decisions regarding city property or contracts.


Amarotico asked Sponsler to comment on successes of charters passing in other cities.  Sponsler is not aware of a charter that has not passed.  There are occasionally separate measures, usually controversial issues such as term limits that donít pass but in his experience complete charters pass.


Chapman asked for clarification of chapter IV, Section 16 part b stating that the council may adopt an ordinance at a single meeting by the unanimous approval of at least a quorum of the councilÖ.Chapman commented that under that language if the mayor canít vote and the mayor is a part of the quorum itís possible that two people could pass an ordinance.  Sponsler explained that if Ashland decides not to have the Mayor vote that language would be changed to indicate how many votes are required to pass an ordinance at a single meeting and that the presence of the Mayor does not count towards a quorum.  Sponsler pointed out:  Why would someone who canít vote, in Ashlandís case the Mayor, count as a part of the quorum? 


In the model, the Mayor is a part of the council and votes.  If the Mayor doesnít vote, the language would be changed.


Chapman asked where the appropriate place is in the charter to include language on ethics.  Sponsler thought it would be placed in Chapter XI, miscellaneous provisions.  Whatever is put in place, it cannot be less than required by state law.  And if state law changes the charter language would have to comply.


Some cities include language about conduct, ethics etc. in an ordinance or resolution.  If ethics language was included in the charter could council add additional ethics language in the form of an ordinance?  Sponsler said itís possible but you get into the issue of who will enforce it.  You donít need an ethical statement when you can have a recall.


Chapman explained that there is a group that wants to include an ethics statement in the charter and suggests that something be included that the council is bound by the ethical standards.  Sponsler suggested that a sentence could be included that states all city elected and appointed officials and city employees are required to comply with all state ethics laws and any ordinances adopted by council.  It would call to attention that there is this obligation.  Morrison asked if a violation occurred would the person be held to a sanction at the state level and also some sort of sanction at the city level.  Sponsler suggested that there should be an ethics ordinance that defines what the sanctions and process should be.


Hartzell asked about a preamble in charters.  Sponsler said there probably are preambles in charters, but the charters he is familiar with do not because preambles do not have any legal the preamble is better as part of the measure.  No harm in the preamble but doesnít have any significant weight.


Sponsler explained that the charter gives authority is to the full council but that you hare held ethically responsible as an individual.


Morrison thanked Sponsler for attending.


Audience member asked to speak.  She explained that there are three citizen initiatives and if one or all passed would it apply and the new charter did not pass would the initiatives apply to the existing charter.  Sponsler said it would but that he had never seen a measure that amended a previous charter.  Sometimes councils will take a citizen initiative and try to make it work within the framework of the charter and may modify.  It was clarified that any citizen initiative to be a ballot measure it would have to include charter language.  If it passed it would apply to the current charter either a newly passed charter or the existing charter.


Sponsler was asked if citizen initiative need to have charter language in it?  Sponsler replied that to be a ballot measure it would have to be in charter language?  If it passed it would apply to whichever charter passed. 


Citizen asked if Sponsler could incorporate the initiatives into his draft.  Morrison explained that the council had already made its decision not to include the initiatives in the draft.


The meeting adjourned at 6:40 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,
Ann Seltzer


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