Citizen groups press for plethora of charter changes

Published 10:02 am Friday, November 18, 2011

FRANKLIN—Three sets of proposed changes to the city’s 50-year-old charter — each of the three from a different citizen or citizens group — have landed on the City Council’s plate for consideration.

Just one set of changes will be the topic of a Monday, Nov. 28, public hearing. A group led by Franklin attorney and Ward 2 resident Jim Rainey proposed three charter changes to Ward 2 Councilman Benny Burgess, who presented them to council colleagues during an Oct. 24 meeting.

Burgess did not identify the other members of the group but said they come from multiple wards. Rainey declined to comment on the changes until after the Nov. 28 hearing.

Among the group’s proposed changes are a recall provision for council members and removal from office of a council member who is late paying his property taxes.

On Monday, a group of Ward 5 residents, including Ricky Sykes of Morton Street, proposed an additional set of changes. Those provisions were discussed during the council meeting Monday but will not be the subject of this month’s public hearing. City Attorney Taylor Williams was authorized to check the legality of the proposed changes, as he was with the original four introduced by Burgess.

The suggested charter changes by Sykes’ group would limit the mayor to five two-year terms and ward representatives to three consecutive four-year terms.

The residents also suggested that school board members be elected rather than appointed and that school board members serve two-year terms rather than three-year terms.

The proposals also would make school board members subject to the same forfeiture of office and recall provisions that council members would be.

Sykes said he doesn’t agree with all of the proposed changes but thinks an elected school board and the recall provision should be considered. He has helped collect 60 signatures in opposition to the four original proposals and will present the petition to Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard during the Nov. 28 public hearing.

He said the additional proposals come from some of the residents who signed the petition.

Hall Street Resident Dr. Linwood Johnson submitted his own set of proposed charter changes, most significantly a change from the council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form. The switch would require the city manager to answer to the mayor on the day-to-day operations of the city.

Johnson said the system would model that of Richmond, where the city manager reports to the mayor. He said the plan would require some tweaking to make it fit Franklin.

“It’s solid, strong government,” Johnson said. “What I presented is strong government. It would be an enhancement, and it’s something we need.”

Johnson’s proposals also would prohibit council members from missing more than two meetings a year. He also suggested a proposal that would require a super majority of six votes on the seven-member council for future charter changes.

Johnson said he supports the recall proposal but said the forfeiture-of-office proposal would have the same effect as a recall proposal and called it redundant.

Clay Street resident Ronnie McClenny, a former Franklin police officer, also asked that all charter changes be submitted at least one year prior to a municipal election. There will be a municipal election in May.

Ward 1 resident William Kannan said the council should take its time considering all of the proposed charter changes. He said he supported a super-majority vote on important issues and encouraged the council to retain as much power as possible.

Heading the list of proposed changes by Rainey’s group is a charter provision for a recall election of a City Council member or the mayor with a petition signed by 15 percent of the electorate in an individual 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 council members 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 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.