Major changes could be coming to the city’s charter, one of which could give the administrator greater authority to deal with problem personnel.
Currently, Council action is needed to terminate an employee. That means holding a public meeting, which requires thee days’ notice. Murray said that depending on the situation, that could be too long for an employee to remain on the job.
Under the proposed charter amendment, a permanent decision on whether or not to fire an employee would still need council approval. Some members of the Charter Commission, which reviews the charter at least annually, recommended going even further, giving the City Administrator final say over hiring decisions.
However, most councilors and Charter Commission members felt that would ultimately not be in keeping with the strong council format the city has traditionally had. Councilors, at their Wednesday work session, pushed back to accommodate Tuesday’s election, indicated that they were comfortable with the recommended compromise.
All changes recommended by the Charter Commission must be ratified by the council through a unanimous vote. Because of this unusually high threshold, and because a public hearing needs to accompany such proposals, City Administrator Tim Murray said he wouldn’t bring a formal proposal before the council unless it had unanimous support.
Another proposed change has to do with the city’s method of filling vacant council seats. The city’s mechanism of appointing new members was utilized last year, when Councilor Jonathan Wood was appointed to replace longtime Councilor Steve Underdahl. Underdahl resigned his council seat after he was elected to the Rice County Board of Commissioners.
Under the city charter, the mayor is allowed to appoint a new member to the City Council if the council is deadlocked over who should fill the seat. With one seat on the seven-member council open, such a vote could easily be tied at 3 votes.
The charter doesn’t require that the mayor’s selection to be one of the finalists for the position. Murray recommended cleaning up the statute to require the mayor to select one of the finalists for the position.
“I think there’s an expectation from the public … that if two candidates tied, one of the two should be the appointee,” Murray said.
Councilor Royal Ross said he liked the current system, saying it adds a bit of a “wild card” to the process. However, with the rest of the council in favor of the proposed change, Ross said he wouldn’t block its adoption.
One more disagreement sprung up over a proposed charter rule change that would maintain the city’s primary election system. The city’s primary elections are held concurrently with the state’s, minimizing the cost to the city.
The council previously passed a resolution requiring a primary election for council seats if there are at least three times the number of candidates as open council seats. If there are more than three mayoral candidates, a primary would also need to be held to narrow it down to two contenders.
The council previously implemented this policy through a resolution, but as state statute calls for a different system, an amendment in the charter is now needed to maintain the policy.
Ross said he disagreed with the idea of narrowing the Mayor’s race down to two candidates. Ross argued that there’s no reason not to give voters an additional choice.
Councilor Elizabeth Cap staunchly disagreed. She insisted that the purpose of a primary should be to reduce the number of candidates down to two, so as to ensure that the new mayor has majority support and was not elected through “vote splitting.”
Although the other councilors were ultimately swayed to Ross’s position, Cap threatened to block Ross’s proposal if it came before the council. With the proposed charter change needing unanimous support, Cap’s opposition would prevent it from being enacted.
The council meets again for its regularly scheduled meeting Nov 12.