On charter, don’t get carried away

Published 12:36 am Saturday, November 26, 2011

In this open season on the City of Franklin’s charter, the City Council should amend the charter to prescribe a thorough process for … amending the charter.

The recent plethora of proposed changes to a document that has served the city well for 50 years should cause council members and citizens alike to take a deep breath and consider the wisdom of such foundational changes.

America’s founding fathers understood the importance of protecting this country’s founding document, the Constitution, from the whims of politicians and the emotions of the citizenry. Only after two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives agree on a proposed amendment — or after two-thirds of state legislatures call for a Constitutional Convention — can an amendment even be considered. Thereafter, three-fourths of all states must ratify the amendment.

The process ensures both careful consideration of constitutional amendments and consensus in order for them to be implemented.

The founding fathers recognized they were fallible and that a process must exist for altering their document, but they also understood that such change could not be taken lightly or easily accomplished, lest the stability of our government and country be threatened by a reckless Congress.

Franklin needs such a process.

The recent flurry of proposals and counterproposals by citizen factions makes the average citizen’s head swim and reveals the need for a careful process for future charter changes.

Four changes will be the subject of a public hearing at Monday night’s council meeting. Two make good sense. The city needs a clear recall procedure for City Council members who violate, and thus lose, the trust of the constituents who elected them. Another provision that would boot from office criminals and tax deadbeats is logical and harmless.

Another proposed charter change, however, reveals the danger of fundamental change motivated by short-term emotions and circumstances.

In their zeal to complicate the political ambitions of maverick Ward 3 Councilman Greg McLemore, council members threaten to undermine future generations of quality leadership in our city.

The charter change is motivated singularly by a desire to make McLemore choose between running for mayor next year or serving as Ward 3’s representative on the council. McLemore thrives on attention, and his council colleagues are giving it to him in spades.

The charter change may or may not get rid of McLemore, but it almost assuredly will cost the city some fine public servants in the future.

There is no better training ground for a mayor than to serve a term or two as a ward representative while learning the ins and outs of municipal government and the functionality of the council itself, which the mayor chairs. Imagine, 20 years from now or even sooner, at a time when Franklin desperately needs good leadership, that there’s a bright, energetic, respected council member who is serving his ward exceptionally well and wants to expand his service citywide by running for mayor.

Under the charter change the current council seems intent on rushing to adoption, this fine public servant would have to give up his ward seat just to run for mayor. It’s not inconceivable that same public servant would lose the mayoral race, depriving the city and his ward of his public service altogether.

We greatly mistake our place in history by using founding documents to achieve short-term political objectives. America’s founding fathers understood the dangers. So should the Franklin City Council.

McLemore, who will self-destruct in due time, isn’t worth it.