Council sends charter amendments to General Assembly for approval

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FRANKLIN—The Franklin City Council voted 5-2 to send four proposed amendments to the city’s charter to the General Assembly for approval.

Among amendments is making it a misdemeanor for a council member to give direct orders to a city employee and requiring a council member to resign before running for mayor.

Councilmen Greg McLemore and Don Blythe dissented after a public hearing that fostered no negative comments from residents.

McLemore asked the board to consider a referendum, noting the decision should not be rushed.

Jim Rainey, local attorney and author of the four proposals, said he and a group of residents collaborated but had no political agenda.

“We’re not singling any of the council members out,” Rainey said.

Another amendment calls for a provision that would allow for a recall election of any council member or mayor with a petition of 15 percent of the electorate in a ward, or citywide in the case of a mayor.

Rainey said the recall provision was taken from the City of Portsmouth.

Another change to Franklin’s charter calls for a forfeiture of office provision that would force a council member to give up his office for failure to pay taxes to the city, breaking any charter law, lying, cheating or stealing, or no longer living in the ward in which he was elected.

Rainey explained that the forfeiture of office provision is not new and can be found in the city’s current charter. He added that the amendment would simply expand the offenses that could result in a forfeiture of office.

The current charter already outlines forfeiture of office guidelines, which include a felony conviction while in office and disorderly conduct.

The recall ballot would consist of a “yes” or “no” question, referring to ousting of a member and then would list candidates to succeed that member, if the recall is approved.

Rainey asked at least 16 charter amendment supporters to stand.

Resident Everett Williams said he supports the changes.

“I hope you pass this tonight,” Williams said. “The proposals will improve the governance of the city and they’re surely needed both in the short term and long term.”

Blythe said he was against the non-interference provision because he believes it weakens the council and was written as a direct result of a meeting he had with City Attorney Taylor Williams and City Manager June Fleming.

“It’s trying to shut us down where a council member can’t ask anything,” Blythe said. “I feel this should go to a referendum.”

Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson said she supports the recall provision and “giving citizens a recourse,” but was less supportive of the provision that would make a council member resign before running for mayor.

She asked the city attorney for clarification on the process of appointing a new council member to the resigned seat.

“It takes the lottery effect out of it,” said Johnson, adding that it would prove that a council member wouldn’t have a seat on council to fall back on if he loses a bid for mayor.

Councilman Barry Cheatham said a candidate who ran for mayor, lost and retained his seat on the council could be “a destructive force” on the council.

Councilwoman Mary Hilliard agreed, saying it would be fairer to the mayor.