Archived Story

Council voting to adjust charter

Published 12:37pm Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Oct. 15 Fergus Falls City Council meeting will include a public hearing on changes to the city charter. Though the commission had considered making a change to its referendum rules, most of the changes won’t really affect how the city is governed.

“The changes are in the nature to attempt to make it easier to read, easier to understand,” Charter Commission member Morrie Kershner said at Monday’s city council meeting. He noted that the commission combs through the city’s governing document to make proper grammatical changes and to make sure that the city is acting in accordance with state law.

“There has not been a paragraph or sentence that has not been discussed debated repeatedly,” he said.

The only substantive change that the charter commission discussed during its most recent look at the charter was to section 6.01, which discusses initiatives, referendums and recalls. Currently, referendums are not allowed when it comes to the city levying taxes or appropriating money (a long-standing rule), but the charter commission considered proposing that zoning changes also not be covered under referendum – primarily to allow the city to rezone property for businesses without referendum challenge, according to council member and commission member JoEllen Thacker.

However, the idea was eventually dropped because the commission believed not every council member would vote for it. If the charter is not approved by a unanimous vote within 30 days of a public hearing, it is automatically is sent to the public for a special election, an expensive prospect for Thacker.

“I think that there are some that view anything that limits the scope of initiative and referendum is taking something away from the rights of the people,” she said of why some residents and council members might be opposed to the referendum change, adding that some aldermen believed the change still left the charter ambiguous.

The charter commission spent a lot of time working on section 6 as a whole because of attention the section got in 2010 when a citizen group petitioned a referendum that, if approved, would have placed all major “elective” capital projects in the city up for voter approval before they could be passed. Though the petition was eventually defeated in court, Kershner said the charter commission felt a need to clarify the section so the rules on such actions were clearer.

The council introduced the changes at Monday’s meeting. The Journal published the charter revisions in full in its Sept. 28 issue.

“We did attempt to make the language as clear as possible,” said Kershner.

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