Danedri Thompson
Changing the quorum requirements from four members to three was a non-starter during a special Gardner City Council meeting on April 29.
Council members called a special meeting to discuss making changes to the Charter Ordinance 19, city legislation that exempts the city from a series of state statutes that deal with the composition of the governing body, and the election and appointment of new members to the council.
On the advice of legal counsel, discussion at the April 29 meeting was limited only to repealing or keeping Charter Ordinance 19.
The ordinance, approved in 2002, chartered the city out of having council elections in separate wards, created an appointment process that allows the mayor to make council appointments, and adopted a four-person quorum in order to conduct business. Repealing the Charter Ordinance 19 would mean state statute would govern the city’s elections and appointments. State statute only requires three council members for a quorum, establishes a ward system for council elections, and allows the governing body to make appointments to the council.
Council member Larry Fotovich said repealing Charter Ordinance 19 backs the council out of a rut. Specifically, he said the four-person quorum creates problems when vacancies arise on the governing body. There is currently a vacancy on the council.
“If one of us were gone today, we could not have a meeting,” he said.
However, council member Steve Shute said lowering the number of a quorum to three implies that fewer people are needed to make a decision. With a quorum of three, it would take only two members to make a decision.
“We do have an issue, but lowering the quorum number sends the wrong message,” Shute said.
He suggested instead that the council consider increasing its size and moving from a council of five members to one with six or seven members.
“We aren’t going to be at five council members forever,” he said. “I would rather look forward to fix this problem.”
Repealing Charter Ordinance 19 would change the way appointments would be made to vacant council seats. Currently, the mayor appoints and the council approves. A 2008 state statute, however, created a new set of challenges for the council in the appointment process.
In order to disapprove of a mayoral appointment, the council would be required to write a statement saying why the candidate is unfit for office. If the council simply declines to vote on a candidate for an appointment, the candidate is automatically seated after 45 days.
Fotovich said the governing body should make appointments rather than one person – the mayor – having that power.
Mayor Chris Morrow said he campaigned on making changes to Charter Ordinance 19, but he said he hoped to have a more deliberative process.
Council member Heath Freeman said Gardner voters are accustomed to the mayor making appointments, and cast their ballots for mayor knowing that was a power they were giving to their candidate.
“What we really need to do is formalize the (appointment) procedure,” Freeman said.
After almost an hour of debate, Freeman moved to adjourn the meeting. His motion was seconded, but the entire council voted against adjourning the meeting to allow time for public comment.
Bob Page, Gardner, served on the city council for 20 years.
“You’ve appointed more people in the last five years that we did in 20,” he told the council during public comment. “It’s ridiculous what we went through the last few years. When you go to make a decision, think four or five years down the road.”
Peggy Abdeychik, Gardner, said the new mayor was elected because the people want change. She said today’s fluid society makes repeated council appointments likely.
Her husband, Craig, said the city is politically divided.
“I personally think you should add a council position,” he said. “Whatever you do, I don’t think one person should have all the say.”
Jack Ronan, Gardner, said he served on a council in a smaller community in Iowa. They used a ward system for elections, and it was successful.
Council members seemed to reach a consensus to make changes to Charter Ordinance 19 in the near future. Morrow said he’d like to see changes within the next three or four months. They appeared to agree on chartering out, or changing, the procedure that requires the council to write a statement calling an applicant “unfit” if they wanted to deny a mayoral appointment.
However, they did not appear to reach a consensus on increasing the number of council members, changing the appointment process, or adopting a ward system.
The council will next discuss changes to Charter Ordinance 19 during a council work session at 7 p.m. on May 13 at city hall.