April 18, 2014

Gardner residents draft proposed ordinance rewrites

Two Gardner residents are asking that the Gardner City Council change a city ordinance that details how long mayoral appointees serve. Ironically, it was the desire to see similar changes – changes to limit the mayor’s impact by stacking the council – that had one of the residents, Jared Taylor, seek to ouster former council members Mary Peters and John Shepherd.

For far too long, the city has operated in a fashion that allowed the mayor to appoint into vacant seats without any input from the council or citizens. It’s representation by the mayor for the mayor.

Council members have always had to vote on appointees, however, the statutes governing mayoral appointment require that if they do not approve an appointment, they must put in writing their reasons to be registered with the state. And Gardner’s ordinances go one step further saying that even if the appointments were tabled, after 45 days, the mayoral appointment would simply step into office without council consent.

Too much power in the hands of one person is troubling no matter the person – no matter the time and place, and any attempt to dissipate that power back to the hands of the people is a good thing.
However, it would be silly for the current council to consider the ordinances proposed by two Gardner residents without also seeking to set up a ward system for the city.

Once the official population reaches 20,000 residents, the city will be required to create a ward system and govern like a city of the first class. Gardner is almost there with an estimated 18,000 residents. In the 2010 U.S. Census, the community is unlikely to break that first class city mark. However, we’re likely to see that population long before the 2020 census.

We should be proactive – especially in light of the current scandals at city hall. Not only should political appointees have to stand for re-election at the next voting opportunity, but the council should be expanded by two members and a ward system should be created.

With such a system, two members could be elected at large as well as the mayor while the remaining five council members would be elected by ward.

This is fair and just. It also spreads the current base among more people and allows candidates to get to know their neighbors rather than basing a political campaign on a few slogans designed to capture the attention of the entire town.

The council should consider these ordinances, but they’d be remiss if they didn’t consider adopting additional ordinances to create a ward system and larger council.

For too long, the power in this community has rested with too few.

Two Gardner residents have written proposed changes to two of Gardner’s city ordinances and say they plan to submit them to Mayor Dave Drovetta by the end of the week.

Jared Taylor, a member of Citizens for the Future of Gardner and formerly of the Gardner Recall Committee, along with Chris Morrow, finished the changes Tuesday morning. The proposal advocates for changes to Charter Ordinance 19, Section 3, which, in the case of vacancies on the governing body, states, “…the Mayor, by and with the advice and consent of the remaining Councilmembers, shall appoint a suitable elector to fill the vacancy until the next election for that office.”

Taylor and Morrow’s proposed changes to that ordinance, among others, call for the appointed council member to serve “in that capacity until the next election for that office, unless the term for that office extends beyond One (1) year.” In that case, according to the proposed changes, the appointed Councilmember will be contested in the next available general election.”

Similarly, the proposed rewrite call for the president of the council, in case of a vacancy in the office of mayor, to serve in the capacity of mayor “until the next election for that office, unless the term for that office extends beyond One (1) year, in which case the Mayor’s office will be contested at the next available general election.”

Taylor said the entire purpose of the proposed rewrites is to make mayoral appointees on the city council be a temporary solution to long-term vacancies.

“Our goal is to get elected members onto the council as soon as possible,” he said.

Taylor said, however, the drafting of proposed changes should not be interpreted as a slight to Drovetta’s most recent appointees to the council, Kristy Harrison and Dan Newburg.

“This is not an indication that the mayor made a bad choice in his appointments,” Taylor said. “Time will tell how good they are. This isn’t a slight on anybody he appointed. This is merely an effort to change the ordinance.”

Morrow said he and Taylor became acquainted at Drovetta’s first town hall meeting on March 6; shortly thereafter, they discussed the possibility of changing the city’s charter ordinance.
“The big thing is that there has been a lot of partisanship lately, and it seems like no one is sticking up for the democratic process, and somebody needs to,” Morrow said. “Diplomacy is something that’s been missing here in the city.”

Taylor said he planned to submit the proposed rewrite to Drovetta and the council members by the end of the day Thursday, which could not be confirmed by The Gardner News by the time this article went to press.

Our goal is to make the appointment process a more transparent process and get the community involved,” he said. “We want to make (council appointments) temporary fixes.”

Morrow said he hopes the city council convenes a special work session to discuss possible changes to the city’s charter ordinance.
“Jared and I believe that what’s best for Gardner is that we get elected representatives in the most expedient way possible,” Morrow said.

Taylor said he agreed.

“We think that by having the mayor and council members taking public input, it drives accountability to the public,” he said. “That’s what we’re after here.”

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