Gardner City Council member Larry Fotovich said the city’s process of appointing individuals to the council when vacancies occur is setting the council up to fail.
Chris Morrow had two years left on his council term when he was elected to Mayor earlier this month, and one of council’s first orders of business will be to fill that seat.
During an April 22 work session, Fotovich asked that council members consider making changes to the appointment process before filling that seat. He proposed changing an ordinance that requires four council members to conduct business to allow for only three members to conduct business. He also suggested council should consider excusing itself from a state statute that requires the council, if it doesn’t approve of a Mayoral appointment, to draft a resolution declaring the candidate unfit or unqualified for office.
“I just think both of those – that charter ordinance and that state statute – we ought to take our time and focus on how that process is done,” Fotovich said.
When council members did not appear to reach a consensus on making immediate changes to appointment processes, Fotovich produced a letter requesting a special meeting on April 29 to make the changes.
He needed two other council members to sign the letter in order to call the special meeting, or Fotovich suggested, Morrow could call a meeting without the letter.
Morrow declined promising to put the item on a future agenda, sometime after council approved the 2014 budget, which is due to the state by Aug. 25.
“I think if we don’t seat someone now, we’re creating a crisis where there doesn’t need to be one,” Morrow said.
Changes to the ordinance would require at least a 60-day wait for publication and public hearings.
“There’s going to be a cloud over our heads waiting for an appointment to be made,” Morrow said.
Steve Shute, who attended the April 22 council work session via telephone, agreed to sign Fotovich’s letter.
“I think we need to address this and we need to address this as soon as possible,” Shute said.
Council member Heath Freeman said he was very concerned that one week was not going to be enough time for staff to examine possible changes to the ordinance and make recommendations.
“I don’t believe a special meeting is going to change the process,” Freeman said. “I believe we’re delaying the inevitable.”
Morrow also wanted to have more time to debate various issues associated with changes to the appointment policy. The ordinance in question also lays out the city’s council election process. Morrow said he’d like to consider moving to a ward system. That discussion would require more time.
Council president Kristina Harrison said she would agree to sign the letter and hold a special meeting in one week provided the council move forward with its plans to appoint someone to the council during its meeting on May 6.
Morrow announced a process to make the appointment shortly after he was elected on April 2. He publicized the position and sought applicants. Morrow also asked Harrison and Fotovich to assist him in vetting the candidates, and announced he planned to make the appointment during the council meeting scheduled on May 6. Three people applied to fill the vacant seat.
Council will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on April 29 to discuss changes to city ordinances and state statutes governing the appointment and election process. City staff seemed unclear about what direction or information they will be asked to bring to the meeting.