Whitehall News

Nov. 5 elections

Voters for third time may see question about term limits

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It appears that Whitehall residents, for a third time, will be asked to repeal term limits when they go to the polls Nov. 5.

It is one of several proposed amendments to the Whitehall city charter that could appear on the ballot in November.

Whitehall City Council members on July 30 were expected to vote on which of the Whitehall Charter Review Commission's recommendations would be presented to the electorate for consideration. Six of the seven members were expected to be present at the July 30 meeting.

Because council will be required to suspend the three-reading rule and adopt emergency legislation to create the ballot issues, a two-thirds majority of elected council members, not just those present, is required for the legislation to pass.

For the issues to appear on the ballot in November, a petition must be received by Aug. 7 at the Franklin County Board of Elections, 90 days prior to Election Day.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of Whitehall City Council is Aug. 6, but council president Jim Graham said council members did not want to work against such a close deadline and opted for a special meeting July 30.

During a July 23 council committee meeting, members made known their opinions of the recommendations of the Whitehall Charter Review Commission.

It was the first vetting of the recommendations in public, and council members exhibited differing opinions about the substance of the recommendations, how to proceed with dissecting the recommendations and how to present the proposed amendments to the voters.

Early in the discourse, council member Robert Bailey suggested carte blanche approval of all the review commission's recommendations.

"I don't agree with everything in here, but I support the process (of letting the voters decide). ... The (commission) completed their task," said Bailey, whose wife, Naja, was a member of the Charter Review Commission.

Councilman Van Gregg concurred with Bailey's suggestion that voters should be entitled to consider all of the commission's recommendations.

Councilman Wes Kantor suggested either accepting or rejecting in whole the recommendations.

City attorney Mike Shannon interceded and generally advised council members of their duty to carefully consider the recommendations. Shannon said he could recall no instance where a council either wholly accepted or rejected the recommendations of a charter review commission.

"I am not aware of a council ever having accepted it all -- lock, stock and barrel -- just because it was recommended," Shannon said. "It is incumbent upon you to consider it. I understand your respect for the process, but no one gets it all right."

New Albany Village Council in 2009 voted to place 17 charter amendments on the ballot as one issue, and voters passed the measure with 56-percent approval. The amendments included a provision to allow council to enter executive session for the purpose of discussing economic development.

The Whitehall review commission recommended suspending term limits for council members, but not for the mayor and other elected administrators.

Shannon opined that suspending term limits for one group and not the other arguably could disturb the balance of power between the legislative and administrative branches of local government.

It would set a "bad precedent," Shannon said, to just "sign off" on the recommendations of the commission.

In offering an opinion concerning term limits, Shannon said Whitehall voters are underestimated.

Shannon was careful not to cite individuals but made it clear the voters had taken steps to remove from office those whom they believe were not fit to serve, in effect holding up the proverb that the ballot box is the best kind of term limit.

Council members concurred that it would create an imbalance to propose lifting term limits for only council members and it appeared members would amend the recommendation to include the offices of mayor, auditor, treasurer and city attorney.

Concerning a recommendation to replace the elected city attorney with an appointed law director, council members quickly opted to defer the question to a future ballot.

Council members were equally swift to reject a recommendation to amend the boundaries of the city's four wards based on the most recent population census. Members said the change wasn't significant enough to warrant the effort.

Council members appeared to achieve consensus in a recommendation to stagger the election cycle of the auditor to coincide with council members rather than other administrators but were not in step with a recommendation that the parks and recreation director serve the mayor.

Kantor said he preferred the current system, with the director reporting to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Bailey concurred but said the commission is lacking in its oversight.

Gregg said residents might prefer the mayor having more control and that the issue should go on the ballot.

Graham asked Shannon to prepare the necessary legislation to be considered during the July 30 meeting.

No votes could be taken July 23 because it was a committee meeting, but members were expected to vote at the special meeting July 30.

Check ThisWeekNEWS.com for updates.

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