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Clarksville Charter Update for the February 27th Meeting


Clarksville City Council - Ward 10Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville Charter Commission met Monday afternoon (February 27th) to continue its efforts to update the charter. This was the third meeting of the commission and all council members except for Councilman Harris, who has missed 2 of 3 sessions, were there. A citizen member or two may have been missing.

Removal From Office

The debate on this topic revolved around either having the council and its legal advisors act as judge and/or jury on removing any elected city official found guilty for violating specific laws or using the actual judicial system. The past rewrites of the city charter were looking to have the council do the job. The legislature wants the city to use state regulations and laws that use the courts for removal actions.

Mayor McMillan is supporting the state system citing that the city would wind up in court no matter what happened at any council review/decision. Of course, the fear of having to go to court always costs time and money and that seems to hinder city efforts to carry out some actions and ideas when those two items are involved.

I mentioned that the court system is not fast, thus dragging out the time and money considerations, and that a few issues could be handled at the council level.

For example, if a council member quit showing up for council or other assigned meetings, without valid excuses, then the council should be able to take action, per charter or ordinance guidance, without going to court. If a council member stops living in their elected ward, but fails to vacate their council seat as required, then the council should be able to remove that person without going to court.

However, the concern appears to be that a city council could go on a witch-hunt and would carry out an unwarranted removal. The recommendation was to go with the state’s general law approach. This was approved with no dissenting votes.

At Will Workforce

The commission next took up the issue with “at will”. Basically, Tennessee is an “at will” work state, which means you can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason. The city-revised charter had stated that Clarksville was an “at will” city.

The state took exception to that even though it is the policy of Tennessee. The current old charter states that employees are employed on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day, or month-to-month basis which translates into the worker is “at will” with no binding contract of employment.

During the 2011 charter committee review, we found that another section in the revised charter (Art. VI, Sec 3) stated that employees would be disciplined or removed as provided by ordinance. This is actually how Clarksville operates as it allows recourse for those who may be fired or disciplined.

Mayor McMillan tried to meet the state’s wishes by keeping the “at will” cause (Art. VIII, Section 9 revised charter draft), but adding repeat language that the city may have ordinances to take care of discipline or firing. One of the goals of the new charter is to eliminate repetitive policy or guidance that could lead to confusion or conflicting guidance.

With that in mind and per the 2011 committee’s recommendation, I made a motion to eliminate the entire Art VIII, Section 9 with the “at will” wording, since we had covered the city policy in the Art.VI, Sec 3. This was approved by the commission with no dissenting votes.

Mayoral Runoff

We just got started on this before this session ended.  Discussions ranged from do we need runoffs to how do we go about them. If you recall/review the April 2011 minutes and ideas of that charter committee, you’ll see that we came up with 6 options for runoffs. As the discussions evolved, the current committee came back to “Do we need runoffs?”

Vicki Koelman, (county election commission) who worked closely with the 2011 committee, was in attendance at this meeting. Basically, she stated the data shows that not all cities have runoffs, the turnouts are poor, rarely does the person in the lead (but with less than 50% of the vote) lose in a runoff and the cost to do the runoff is high for the results provided.

The 2011 committee was aware of all of this, but it had been an election issue in the 2010 mayoral race so we tackled the concept for the new charter.

I pointed out to the committee the “die may already be cast” due to comments made by Mayor McMillan and Councilman Burkhart during the 2010 mayoral race. Councilman Burkhart was so supportive of runoffs that in the Jan 2010 executive session he had proposed a resolution to change the old charter to require a runoff for mayor. The council asked him to wait and address it in the 2011 charter update effort, which he did.

After my statement, Mayor McMillan stated that she had not supported runoffs, but supported studying the concept of (or need for) a runoff.  Later, several committee members expressed surprised by the mayor’s statement and recalled a more supportive response, without caveats, from her during the campaign.  I will look back at the question of runoffs and try and find the candidate responses during the campaign.  Time ran out and this topic will be at the top of the agenda for next week.

Residency Requirements

This has been looked at before and will be a lively topic again, possibly next week. Issues have surfaced in the past and are circling today that council members may not have been or are not currently living in their wards. Should owning a house in a ward be enough validation to show residency or should you be actually living and sleeping there?

That is a wrap for now.

About Bill Summers




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