Panel OKs more changes

Final charter review plan will be presented to council by June 1

By Elise Franco


The city’s charter-review committee has approved another handful of recommended changes for city operations.

Recommendations approved Monday are:

To retain seven council members and redistrict each ward every 10 years, based on census population, so that each ward has an equal number of residents.

Phil Kidd, a committee member, said if the wards are redistricted based on the 2010 census, each ward would have about 9,500 residents.

If a council person vacates the position after serving for fewer than two years, all precinct committee members of that ward would vote in a replacement. If the vacancy is created after two or more years, a special election would be held.

The Parks and Recreation Commission would be abolished, and the parks director would be appointed by and report directly to the mayor. The parks would then function as all other city departments currently function.

Scott Schulick, committee member, said most residents, city department heads and city council members who were asked their opinion on this matter felt the parks would function better without a commission.

“Our parks and rec department isn’t in great shape,” Schulick said. “So the issue has become, would the parks be in better condition if the mayor had the ability to hire and fire the park director?”

Also approved was a recommendation that a charter-review committee convene annually to review the charter. The committee would continue to be appointed by the mayor and council.

The final recommendation was to change the name of the Division of Housing to the Division of Property Maintenance, which would encompass inspections, zoning and demolitions.

The 11-member committee plans to present its final recommendations to city council by June 1. Council members must approve the proposals before they can be placed on the November general- election ballot.

Eight of the 11 charter committee members were appointed by council members with the other three selected by Mayor Charles Sammarone.

Jerome Williams, committee chairman, said they voted to recommend about 30 issues but will choose significantly fewer, likely five or six, to actually present to council for approval.

“We have to prioritize,” he said. “We don’t want this to all be in vain. We believe in all [30] of these issues, but we’ll go to them with the ones we feel really strong on.”

The biggest disagreement of the evening came during discussion over how to proceed with a public forum scheduled for May 22, where residents would have the chance to hear how and why the committee made its decisions over the past several months.

Most of the members agreed that the public should be privy to information regarding all 30 issues the committee considered for recommendation, but would only be able to give input on the top 10 or so that the committee deemed highest priority.

Kidd suggested presenting all of the issues to the public and then polling to find those they believe are most important.

“We need to hear public input based on what they feel is a priority,” he said.

“This is going to be a very important issues for the public.”

Williams felt that presenting all of the issues to the public would create confusion because the committee would already have chosen its top issues.

“They’ve had the right to be at every single meeting we’ve had,” he said.

“They’ve not heard all the information we gathered.”

Williams said he feared that if the public favored issues the committee didn’t plan to recommend to council, it would be viewed as the committee going against the public.

What information, if any, that the public will be polled on during the forum is still undecided.

A time and location for the meeting will be announced at a later date.

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