Whitehall News

Charter review

Council could see ward shifts, term-limit suspension


The Whitehall Charter Review Commission has completed its review of the city charter.

Unlike its last review five years ago, the commission has proposed several significant amendments. They include suspending term limits for members and president of City Council, replacing the elected city attorney with an appointed law director, changing the election cycle for the office of auditor and placing the director of the recreation and parks department under the purview of the mayor.

The commission also recommended a redistricting of the city's four wards based on the most recent U.S. Census data.

The five-member Charter Review Commission did not recommend removing term limits for the mayor, auditor, treasurer or city attorney if the office were to remain an elected position.

The recommendations were received for the July 9 meeting of the committees of Whitehall City Council but were not discussed at length.

Instead, City Council President Jim Graham suggested council members review the recommendations and be prepared for an in-depth discussion during the July 23 committee meetings.

"If a decision is made (concerning the recommendations), Graham said, it is likely a special meeting of Whitehall City Council will be convened Tuesday, July 30, for the sole purpose of acting on the recommendations.

City Council reserves the right to accept all, some or none of the recommendations, or it could amend the recommendations.

If council recommends any proposed amendments to the charter, members will adopt a resolution asking the Franklin County Board of Elections to place an issue on the November ballot.

Whitehall voters would be asked whether to accept or reject the proposed amendments, which could be presented as a single ballot issue or as separate issues, yet to be determined by council and the elections board.

To have an issue on the Nov. 5 ballot, the elections board must receive the resolution no later than 90 days before the election, thus requiring a special council meeting July 30.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting, after July 23 is not until Aug. 6 -- beyond the deadline.

In addition to recommending the elimination of term limits for council members and the council president, the commission recommended changing the election cycle for the office of auditor.

Currently, the auditor, treasurer, city attorney, council president and at-large council members are elected to four-year terms on the same ballot. Council members representing the city's four wards also are elected to four-year terms, but the elections of ward council members are staggered, occurring two years after each election cycle for the at-large council members and the administrative posts.

The commission is recommending that the election of auditor be shifted to coincide with the election of ward council members, achieved by electing the auditor to a two-year term in 2015.

In 2017, the auditor would be elected to a four-year term and appear on the ballot with candidates for council wards.

Commission members recommended replacing the elected city attorney with an appointed law director. The term of city attorney Mike Shannon expires Dec. 31, 2015.

Commission members recommended granting the mayor administrative control of the recreation and parks department.

Currently, the director of the recreation and parks department is selected by and serves at the pleasure of the Whitehall Recreation and Parks Commission, whose members are appointed by City Council.

If the charter is amended as proposed, the mayor would nominate a recreation and parks director, based on a list of candidates the commission generates, but council must confirm the appointment. The director would report to the mayor.

Any charter amendments City Council forwards to the Board of Elections for the Nov. 5 ballot require approval of the electorate.