Centennial's dubious home-rule effort

(Updated, Jan. 18) "We cannot hope for voter approval of a charter that strips the citizens of their rights. Trying to establish a city government that demeans and disenfranchises them will evoke public outcry, and it should." [Editor's note by John Andrews: That was the closing argument by Peg Brady of Centennial, one of 21 elected members on the commission to draft a home-rule charter for that city, in a memo presented to her colleagues at their Jan. 12 meeting. Full text of the memo, entitled "To Have This Charter Approved," was as follows.]

Unless we want an extended engagement re-writing this charter, we need to remember that it must be affirmed by Centennial's voters. Inasmuch as barely 50% of the voters approved home rule, there is little chance for voters approving a charter that diminishes their rights.

Centennial's citizens were promised that home rule would afford them a greater opportunity for self-governance. A charter that reduces their ability to participate in their city's government violates that promise and deserves to be rejected. Yet that's just what we're doing.

We've already raised the bar on their rights of recall, initiative and referendum. Illogically, we stated a concern that the city council might try to block citizen action by setting standards higher than the constitutional and statutory minimums, and then we built permanently elevated standards into the charter. [Update: See Note 1 below.]

In our on-going discussions on the offices on city clerk and city treasurer, many of us seem to favor non-elective appointees. But the citizens have repeatedly stipulated that they want to elect oversight officers to ensure that the appointees act in the citizens' best interest, especially in the matter of elections. [Update: See Notes 2 and 3 below.]

We cannot hope for voter approval of a charter that strips the citizens of their rights. Trying to establish a city government that demeans and disenfranchises them will evoke public outcry, and it should.


NOTE 1: Upon reconsideration at its Jan. 12 meeting, the commission reduced the petition requirements for an initiative and a referendum. As now drafted, citizens have 180 days to acquire signatures on a petition for an initiative, needing 5% of the registered voters if the issue will be voted in a regular election and 15% if a special election. Citizens also will now need signatures from 5% of the registered voters for a referendum, to be collected within 30 days of the final publication of the ordinance. "Emergency" ordinances are not subject to referendum, a potential problem when the city council uses that category merely for expediting a decision.


NOTE 2: [Peg Brady's memo to colleagues on Jan. 15, in advance of the clerk & treasurer discussion scheduled for Jan. 17] In the original draft charter given us as a starting point, both the city treasurer and city clerk were appointed offices. However, some insisted on elected officers to hold or at least oversee these positions, and thus the section is being rewritten.

As a good first step, the city treasurer's position has been split. Our draft now describes an elected finance oversight officer and an appointed finance operations officer (with whatever titles we settle upon). The elected finance oversight officer ensures that the citizens' interests are respected, while the appointed finance operations officer handles the nitty-gritty financial tasks. Good pattern.

It seems logical to adopt the same paired-officer pattern for the city clerk's position: an elected clerical oversight officer and an appointed clerical operations officer. In parallel with the paired financial officers, the appointed officer would handle all the operational and administrative functions and the elected officer would oversee those operations to ensure the citizens' interests.

What their titles are is unimportant to me. Our current (highly deserving!) deputy city clerk told us that the title "city clerk" has value when interacting with other municipal-ities; in that context, we might title the appointed officer "city clerk" and title the elected officer whatever we choose. Another consideration, though, is that our voters are accustomed to electing the "city clerk" and would need a clear explanation of the change.

Central to the problem with the clerk's office is the matter of elections. Even those of us who prefer an appointed city clerk acknowledge that there should be some oversight of elections. An elected elections commission has been discussed, for instance. Especially if we abolish the elected clerical oversight office, such a commission becomes essential for any hope of the voters approving the proposed charter.

My suggestion, then, is that we apply the same pattern as that for treasurer: an elected clerical oversight officer and an appointed clerical operations officer. In addition, I recommend an elected elections commission. One commissioner would be elected in each district. Together with the elected-at-large clerical oversight officer, they would constitute a 5-member elections commission to supervise elections. For elections, the operational officer would handle the process and the oversight officer or the 5-member commission would ensure voters that good practices are followed. I think that our voters will require this sort of pattern, or they are unlikely to approve the proposed charter.

As to those appointed officers, I envision appointments made by the City Manager with the approval of the city council.


NOTE 3: [Peg Brady's update after the Jan. 17 meeting] At Thursday's public hearing, seven of ten speakers declared in favor of electing the clerk and treasurer; then the commission debated it without resolution for the remainder of the evening. Unfortunately, those who seek to take away electing the offices remain adamant, even in the face of strong support for election (including Mayor Randy Pye and County Clerk Nancy Doty). Because those of us who favor election are just as adamant, no progress occurs.

Perhaps there can be a resolution that satisfies those who want hired officials (continuity and professionalism) but retains our need for elected officials (accountability and independence). That Nancy Doty achieves this blend with her staff seems a logical model, I think, but it obviously didn't impress the pro-hiring faction last night.