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Changes to charter?
City manager: We found some inconsistencies
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     Among a list of agenda items for Statesboro City Council to consider as part of its regularly scheduled, bi-monthly meeting Tuesday, will be the adoption of a revised city charter.
     Council will gather in its chambers, on the second floor of City Hall, for a 6 p.m. meeting in which members are scheduled to vote on the first reading of a motion permitting the implementation of a city charter that is more organized and cleansed of outdated, antiquated language, according to interim city manager Frank Parker.
   "What we are trying to do, in general, is develop a broader, generic charter that allows us to deal with specific issues through city ordinances instead of having to go through the state legislature," said Parker. "We also want to take out any inconsistencies that are in there now - for example the old charter still refers to a ‘city administrator,' and still has conflicting language as a result of the city changing its type of government throughout the years."
    "Over the years, someone would take, and amend a certain section of the charter, but not go back through the entire document to make sure there were no other references to that particular issue," he said. "We found that some inconsistencies had developed. So this change makes sure there are no contradictions between different sections of the charter."
      A new charter, according to staff attorney Michael Graves, was deemed necessary by members of council and former city manager Shane Haynes last year. The revised document corrects multiple issues found in the current version, he said.
     "The most important change is that the charter is actually organized," said Graves, who drafted the document. "Instead of having council and the mayoral roles all stacked together, like in the old charter, each position - mayor, city council and city manager - has its own section with clearly defined powers and duties."
     "Often times you would look for a certain piece of information in the charter, but not know where to look," he said. "This change is just a way to make information show up in a logical place for anyone needing to find something."
     According to the Graves, changes were minor and mostly dealt with wording and organization.
     "There are not a whole lot of changes in terms of powers and authority, but we took out a lot of language and made the passages make more sense," he said. "The new charter isn't going to change who can vote, electoral districts, requirements to be mayor or a councilmen or anything like that. This charter just more accurately reflects a council and city-manager form of government. "
      The vote to approve a first reading will come, unless tabled, directly following a work session - also held in the council chambers - in which council will discuss specifics of the new document for a first time.
      Council members, who received copies of the potential charter this week, will be able to critique the document with other councilmen, the mayor and city manager in the 4 p.m. session.
      "I am a little troubled given the fact that council really hasn't had an opportunity to provide input on a draft prior to the day we are potentially voting on it," said councilman Travis Chance. "We are going to talk about it at 4 p.m. and then vote on it a 6 p.m. I don't know if that is enough time."
     "I want to read it and thoroughly understand what the changes are - and know that the public understands what the changes are - before I ratify or vote on something of this significance," he said. "I think the responsible thing to do will be table the vote for another meeting."
      The reason for the accelerated pace, according to Graves, is that the city would like to have a decision rendered in time to submit the charter to state legislators before the current legislative session expires - in the event a council-act is required by the legislature to accept a new charter.
    "The reason for a vote tomorrow is: we aren't sure if a local act is first required in order for the legislature to accept a new charter," said Graves - it is possible, as a result of a rule in Georgia's municipal code, that the changes may not have to be approved by the state legislature, he said. "If it does require a motion by the city, we have to get the process started now in order to get the charter before the legislature in this year's session."
      In the event a first reading is passed today, and a second in April, there is a chance a new charter may still have to wait until next year, he said.
      The current session would require an extension period - which Graves said he does expect to happen - for the city to have enough time.
      Still, the city will not rush the decision, said Parker.
     "We want council to come prepared to the work session to make whatever suggestions or recommendations to areas they feel need improvement. They may come in tomorrow, read it and think the charter is the best thing since sliced bread, or they may not. We are simply presenting it," said the city manager. "If changes need to be made, we'll put it off for a couple of weeks. It is not something we are going to do hurriedly; we just have to start the process now."
     Other council business will include: a second, final vote on increasing a technology surcharge assessed on traffic violations from $10 to $20, a resolution to increase the city's Hotel/Motel Tax by one percent and a motion to approve council's April 19 meeting be held on the Georgia Southern University campus.

Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.



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