Public hearing Nov. 28 on changing city charter

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FRANKLIN—The Franklin City Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 at City Hall to discuss four proposed changes to the city’s charter.

The proposed changes were forwarded to the council at its last meeting by Councilman Benny Burgess from residents in his voting district.

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.

A fourth provision would call for the council to deal with the administrative services of the city solely through the city manager. It asks that council members be punished for not obeying this provision.

Residents presented the council with other proposals Monday night. These proposals included term limits of 12 years for mayor and council members, asked for a supermajority 6-1 vote for future charter changes and asked that the city’s form of government be switched from a city council–manager form to a mayor-council form. For the latter, the mayor would play a bigger role in daily operations.

The council asked to have City Attorney Taylor Williams check the legality of the new proposals.

Councilman Greg McLemore said he supported the recall provision because “it gives more power to the citizens,” but feels the other original three provisions were meant to pick on him.

“These charter changes directly reflect me,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword. Don’t be surprised when these rules bite another council member who’s doing the best job they can.”

Burgess told McLemore “you flatter yourself when you say that they’re about you. These are about good governance.”

Burgess added that the provisions were taken from other city charters in the state and agreed that the provisions are a double-edged sword.

“It affects all of us,” he said.

Mayor Jim Councill said the new interference provision adds to language already in the charter and would allow for punishment.

Councilman Don Blythe said he feels the noninterference provision is a direct attack on him and a conversation he had with City Manager June Fleming and Williams.

Blythe questioned how a group of citizens could have written the provisions without help and than asked Williams and Fleming if they wrote the proposals. Each answered “no.”

Blythe argued that the changes would take power away from the council.

“We will not have the authority to question anything out of order that the city does,” Blythe said. “If you support this, we’re in big trouble. You might as well abolish the council and give the responsibility to the city manager.”

Blythe and McLemore also said they feel that the council is trying to push the provisions through and asked for the process to be slowed.

Williams said the original set of provisions is on a timeline to be submitted to the General Assembly by Dec. 5 for consideration during its next session.

McLemore requested that all of the charter amendment provisions be sent to the General Assembly at the same time.

Other provisions residents asked to be added to a list of charter revisions included that council members be prohibited from missing more than two consecutive meetings within a calendar year.

Residents in Ward 5 also suggested that school board members be elected instead of appointed by council.