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City Charter Revision – Vetos and Mayoral Voting

City of ClarksvilleClarksville, TN – I wanted to say thanks to all the folks that responded to my info on the charter runoff possibilities. If you haven’t responded, go ahead and do so if you like. As with any issue that has several solutions or keeping the status quo, there are folks that will throw their support to a particular one.

Several have questioned the need for a runoff citing the issues I had listed about low turnout, costs, etc. However, the strong support has been for a runoff for mayor, with almost everyone against the need for council or city judge runoffs. It appears the majority like the option I suggested, however several asked if we could go metro and fix the whole issue. I hear you, but that is a battle for another day.

I am coming to you again on another charter topic and that is the veto powers of the mayor. Current charter rules give the mayor veto power. It also takes only a simple majority of the council to overturn a veto. In addition it does not take a full council to be present to consider a veto. As long as there is a quorum (counting the mayor), the council can carry out any duties assigned.

In the revised charter version effort, I pushed for a 2/3s majority of the full ward council (12 members) to override a veto. This would be consistent with federal rules and the way in which a number of Tennessee cities, such as Nashville, operate. Some cities allow no veto while others require up to 4/5s of the council to overturn a veto. The revised version got a bit out of hand as the committee (and council) wished to keep the mayor as a member of the voting council even during the veto overturn process. I had preferred to keep the mayor out of the voting on vetoes. Each is a separate process performed for a specific reason and one side should not interfere with the other.

With the mayor added in the veto process, it would require 9 votes (out of 13) to overturn a veto. The original goal was that 8 out of 12 council members (minus the mayor) would be able to overturn a veto. As with most issues folks will see and support a particular approach.

My point in the first and second revision effort was any ordinance is passed with a simple majority vote, or 7 out of 12 councilmen on any regular meeting. If something is passed by the council that the mayor strongly believes it is not good for the city, he/she can veto. However with only a simple majority required to pass the ordinance to start with, and the same number required to overturn a veto, then the veto is basically useless. I offered that no veto was better to the current process.

Given that a mayor is the CEO and the fulltime manager of the city, I believe a bit more authority should be allocated to the position related to veto power. Thus, I would like see a veto kept, with the mayor having no vote during a veto review and that a simple majority vote of the full council, plus one (1), be required to overturn the veto. This means 8 out of 12 ward council members would be needed to overturn a veto. I believe this is a good check and balance for the legislative management of our city.

When should the mayor vote?

Another topic we shall cover is when should the mayor vote. There has been considerable discussion as to whether a mayor should be even at the council meetings and that a “vice mayor” be added to basically referee the council meetings. I do not see the need to spend money for an official vice mayor position just to preside over a council meeting. Vice mayors basically have no other duties (except those we assign to a mayor pro tem – fill in for the mayor when needed) and usually don’t have voting authority unless there is a tie. I believe we can have the better of both options in one. I would propose that the mayor continue to preside over the council meetings, but only vote in order to break a tie. The mayor is often the one who will propose a change or need for the city. To have the mayor there to answer council questions and explain why something is that way or how it will be managed under the new approach is vital. Thus, the mayor needs to be there.

History shows that a mayor rarely votes on any topic, and usually breaks a tie. However, we have had ties and the mayor has not voted. We have also had council meetings where one member might be out and a vote would wind up 6-yes and 5-no and the mayor would then vote no, thus creating a tie. When a tie occurs, the proposal fails due to a lack of majority.  Thus a mayor can “play” with the results of a vote to a degree. I believe any public business that comes before the council deserves to be either passed with a majority or failed by a majority. Thus, ties should broken to provide that clear-cut decision, or, in the case of the 6-5 vote I mentioned, the mayor should veto and take the chance on a veto vote by the council. The position of mayor requires many hard decisions and I think to make a clear choice on issues that come up for a vote is a part of that requirement. It may be hard to make those voting decision, but that is why they run for office and make the big bucks.

Let me know what you think.

Bill Summers
Bill Summershttp://www.cityofclarksville.com/
Bill Summers is the City Councilman for Ward 10 in Clarksville, TN. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the City of Clarksville or Clarksville Online.

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