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Clarksville City Charter Update

Posted By Bill Summers On Monday, January 2, 2012 @ 8:12 pm In Commentary | No Comments

City of ClarksvilleClarksville, TN – Clarksville Mayor McMillan has surprised the council again by changing course on efforts to revise the city charter. On the Executive Agenda for tomorrow is a resolution to approve a new charter with a vote set for Thursday.

Allow me to recap where we started and where we now are. If you recall, the mayor formed a new committee to revise the city charter for a third time in February 2011.

The committee started with these council members with the following backgrounds: Jeff Burkhart (Ward 12, entering his third year on the council and former candidate for mayor in 2010), Geno Grubbs (Ward 7, entering first year of a second term and selected by Mayor McMillan to be Mayor Pro Tem), Kaye Jones (Ward 11, entering first year of her first term as councilwoman), Wallace Redd (Ward 4, multi-term councilman, previous chairman of the two previous efforts to revised the city charter with in-depth knowledge of the charter and efforts involved to revise it), Bill Summers (Ward 10, entering first year of a second term and along with Redd, the only other committee member to have worked in-depth on the previous two efforts to revise the charter, chairman of the third effort to revise the charter). 

You will remember that the two previous efforts to gain a revised charter failed due to a lack of support with our local state representatives and, in turn, a lack of support at the state sub-committee review level.

In early August 2011, Mayor McMillan decided to suspend the third committee efforts due to not liking some of the recommendations that were being developed for full council consideration. The committee was within one to two meetings of having a final version available for council and local state representative review and approval.

Chief among the Mayor McMillan’s dislikes were recommendations to limit the voting power of the mayoral position and the format of a proposed runoff election process for the office of mayor. In both issues, the committee approved the recommendations with NO dissenting votes. The mayor stated she would “reconstitute the Committee” in order to involve our local state legislators and other members of the council.

In late August 2011, a charter meeting was held by Mayor McMillan. Attendance included the previous suspended charter committee, three of our four local state representatives and three additional council members. Although the mayor now wanted to use the involvement of the state representatives in the initial phases of the charter rewrite (she was to invite them to participate when the committee started its work in February), they made it clear they did not want to sit in on the work meetings for fear of being seen as writing the charter revision, versus the council doing it.

It was hammered by the state representatives and a spokesman for the mayor, that the five issues raised on the two previous attempts would have to be addressed for any forward movement of the charter to take place. The committee had actually addressed each of the five issues recommending some changes that were hoped to satisfy any problematic issues during their last approved meeting. The emphasis by the local representatives and the mayor seemed to be addressing the five issues and not worry too much about anything else. While not wanting to appear to be dictating the substance of the charter, that seemed to be the basic premise offered.

Since August, the mayor had not called for any further actions on revising the proposed charter. Then about two months ago, the current charter issue, concerning citizens being on city committees that also did business with the city, came to light. The revised charter (all three efforts) had addressed and fixed this issue, thus it would not have been an issue if those charter efforts had been approved.

In last month’s city council meeting, the mayor had proposed that a current (old) charter change be sent to the state for approval. I argued against this as the current (old) charter had many such issues including having authority to do things that were no longer in accordance with state law. I proposed that that any changes go forward under a totally revised charter. The issue was postponed until this January’s meeting.

It takes 2/3s of the council to approve any change to a charter. Based on statements made by council members (including myself) at last months meeting, it appears that sentiment was sufficient that any change to the current badly outdated charter would not get the required vote margin. Many council members do not want to “fix” the old charter or revised it with half measures or in pieces.

Council members were aware that the issue on the old charter would be back on this month’s agenda. However, the mayor has now thrown in a surprise by submitting her own version of a revised charter for council approval. The mayor appears to be trying to hedge her bet that if the old charter change does not pass (it is still on the agenda), the new charter might pass since it fixes the issue in question and addresses the requirement that has been raised of tying changes to a totally revised charter.

For the past two years, trying to get an updated Clarksville City Charter has been an unpredictable process at the state level.  During the past year, the mayor’s actions have made the local process just as unpredictable. For political expediency Mayor McMillan sacrificed the initial committee charter revision process due to her dislike of some proposals.

If we had stayed the initial course, a completely revised charter would have been approved by the 2011 December regular council session and submitted to the state this month. Again, for political expediency, the mayor appears ready to sacrifice her “re-reconstituted” charter process of involving more of the council and having written/verbal approval of our local state legislators in formulating a completely updated version. Some major items are missing or not addressed resulting in an incomplete revised charter.

For the record, the revised charter version submitted to the state the previous two times was light-years ahead of the currently used charter. The last committee effort to revise the charter used the previous twice-approved council revised version as the starting point. I am in the process of reviewing the mayor’s version of the charter that council members received Friday night (December 30th, on a holiday weekend).

It does uses the same revised charter the committee used as the baseline. The past two council voting efforts on a revised charter took several rounds and weeks of reviews and discussions, to include a public review. Mayor McMillan will not allow this type of process as we have been given less than a week to review, study, and vote (January 5th regular session). This appears to be the same “one and done” maneuver the mayor used on the marina and restaurant leases. Nothing was publicly done on the charter effort for almost four months and now, behind the scenes, the mayor has built a version she wants approved with a minimal review period.

I am in the process of studying the mayor’s revised charter. I am comparing it to what the committee had recommended and comments our local state representatives and the mayor have made previously. It appears that a few changes the committee was going to recommend have been included. However, there appear to be some major issues that have not been addressed in the new revised charter.

Mayor McMillan was in support of a charter change that would require a mayoral runoff when she was a candidate for mayor.  Councilman Burkhart was also in favor of this as a mayoral candidate and voted for it as a change to the charter on the committee.  The mayoral runoff is absent in this charter revision. The change to limit mayoral voting, approved by the committee, is also absent in this charter revision. A change requiring a city council candidate to have live in the ward they wish to represent for 12 months preceding their election appears left out.

Another issue not addressed is the veto. I have been a supporter of a stronger mayoral veto (2/3 majority versus simple majority of whoever shows up) modeled after other Tennessee cities and our national government. The previous effort on this was listed, by some people, as a “power grab” by former Mayor Piper, of which he had no input on nor mentioned any need for. I am still in favor of a stronger veto with Mayor McMillan as the current mayor. The need for this change is NOT based on any person or power play, but what would make the government process work better for Clarksville’s long-term needs.

Editor’s Note: This article contains the view points of Councilman Bill Summers and may not represent the views of the rest of the City Council, the City of Clarksville or ClarksvilleOnline.


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