City eyes charter change

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FRANKLIN — The Franklin City Council voted 4-2 Monday to look into possible changes to the city’s charter.

Councilman Benny Burgess brought up the proposed changes presented to him by a group of residents.

One change would provide for a recall election of a City Council member or the mayor with a petition signed by 15 percent of the electorate in the council member’s ward, or 15 percent of the electorate of the city in the case of a mayor. The petition would then have to be filed in Southampton County Circuit Court before the election would be scheduled.

Another proposed change to the charter would require members of council to resign from office before seeking the office of mayor.

The proposed provisions would also call for a forfeiture of office for any council member or mayor who violates any provision of the charter, no longer resides in the ward from which he or she was elected, is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, or fails to pay all annual real estate and personal property taxes on or before Dec. 31 of the previous year.

The council wants to make sure the additions would be legal before they discuss them further, Burgess said.

Don Blythe and Greg McLemore cast the dissenting votes.

“I don’t think we should consider charter amendments because we are so close to an election,” McLemore said. “The composition (of the City Council) could change.”

Burgess argued that current council members would make decisions, like approval of the budget and other issues whether there’s an election in six months or not.

“We will not put the city on hold while we wait for an election in May,” Burgess said.

McLemore said a charter amendment is different from a budget amendment because it requires action from the state’s General Assembly.

“We can do a budget amendment amongst ourselves,” McLemore said.

Blythe argued that he hadn’t heard any concerns about the city’s current charter from residents in his ward and said the issue “sounds like a smokescreen.”

Councilwoman Mary Hilliard and Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson supported the motion with councilmen Barry Cheatham and Burgess.

“I’d like to say that I’ve heard residents throughout the city asking for charter changes,” Hillard said. “I think it’s long overdue.”

The proposed provisions would only allow members of council to deal directly with the city manager when dealing with administrative services of the city except for the purpose of inquiry.