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City explains charter changes
Council tables vote on revisions
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    A new draft of Statesboro’s city charter took center stage at a council work session Tuesday, where city officials discussed specifics of the freshly-penned document for a first time.
    The potential charter, which is an effort at “cleaning up” and modernizing the current version, was compared to its predecessor and evaluated at the 4 p.m. session in city hall’s second floor council chambers for nearly two hours.
    The end result; the 30-page charter will continue to be a work in progress, as council members and city staff hammer out nuances between the old and new papers. Council tabled a vote in its regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting on the first reading of an ordinance to allow the revision
    “Today, I would just like to get some feedback from mayor and council as to what their expectations are, what concerns they had in the old charter and whether those concerns are expressed in the new charter,” said staff attorney Michael Graves, who drafted and presented the document, to council. “There have not been a lot of substantive changes made to the charter.”
    The new charter, according Graves, is intended to organize the document, cleanse it of out-dated language and have wording more accurately reflect a city-manager form of government. It has been about a year since former city manager Shane Haynes and members of council expressed interest in modifying the charter, he said.
    Most changes, said Graves, are organizational and removed archaic language. 
    “Things that took place in the revision were reorganizing the charter into a more logical framework,” said Graves. Instead of having duties and roles of council, mayor and city manager all lumped into the same place, they were broken down and presented separately, he said.
    “The new charter doesn’t change or alter any powers,” he said. “It just allows people to go in and find what they are looking for easier. What we’re looking at, is making something that is more user-friendly; something that someone can go online to view, and find anything they need quickly.”
    Other minor alterations included changing references of “council president” within the charter to “mayor pro-tem,” “city administrator” to “city manager” and removing passages or sections that are no longer pertinent to the city, said Graves.
Highlighting the few potential changes that are in the proposed charter are a mayoral veto, changes in protocol for filling a suddenly-vacated council seat and more limited power by the municipal court.
    According to the new document, as result of an expressed interest by Mayor Joe Brannen, a mayoral veto that allows the mayor to veto any 3-2 council decision  could be included in the new draft – council could, however, overturn a veto with a 4-1 decision.
    A similar veto is present in about three of the ten city charters Graves used as reference, he said.
    Also, council discussed a scenario in which a suddenly-emptied council position would be left vacant if the seat opened within six months of the term’s scheduled ending date. The change would prevent the city from holding special election just months before holding a regular election.
    Proposed in the new draft would also be a new limit for the maximum penalty given out by Statesboro’s municipal court.
    Punishment for any violation of a city law or ordinance may result in a period of jail-time not to exceed 30 days – the current maximum penalty is six months, said Graves.
    The change could save money spent on incarceration, he said.
The continued revision of Statesboro’s new charter will continue over the course of the next few weeks, said Graves. Many of the items present in the document may still be amended.
    At the behest of the public, the city will publish the continually updating document to the city website, as well as a comprehensive list of all changes – both are expected to be online before the end of the week, he said.
    The sudden appearance of the charter revision on the council’s March 15 agenda came as a result of the city wanting to begin a process that would allow the state legislature a chance to approve a new charter before the end of its current session, according to interim city manager Frank Parker.
    The pace will slow, according to Graves, as a result of more time being needed to finalize details and the discovery that a new draft may not have to go before the legislature for approval.
    A rule in the municipal code grants municipalities the power to change charters as long as no major changes are made –changes include: altering the city’s form of government, adding a council member, changing requirements for voting, modifying qualifications to run for council or mayor and a few others, he said. 
    “None of the changes in the current charter would be within the realm of these particular limitations. So we have more time to look at this, which is always good. I want this to be a perfected document and something that we can be proud of,” said Graves.
    “There is no time limit; we have as long as we need to take,” said Parker. “We want everyone to feel comfortable with the new charter.”
    In other council business:
    The city approved a final motion to increase a technology surcharge assessed on traffic citations from $10 to $20. The increase in funds will allow the police and fire departments to cut money from their operating budgets and fund future programs, according to Wendell Turner, Director of Public Safety for the City of Statesboro.
    Also, council voted unanimously to hold its April 19 meeting in Georgia Southern University’s Nesmith-Lane Building.
    Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454

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