I was privileged to act as secretary in drafting the proposed, new Jacksonville charter. As the time for voters to cast ballots approaches, I must respond to some misconceptions about the new charter.
Don’t Need a New Charter! Some critics dismiss the new charter as unnecessary.
Yes, We Do. The current charter dates from 1953, contains numerous obsolete, conflicting, legally unenforceable and obstructive provisions that seriously hamper Jacksonville’s ability to efficiently respond effectively to the needs of its citizens in the 21st century. The new charter is based almost entirely on the League of Oregon Cities’ Model Charter now being used successfully by most of the State’s chartered cities. It was not scratch-built by the council. The new charter not only conforms to federal and state mandates, it provides the flexibility to be implemented by ordinance or resolution, as the City’s needs change.
For example, the current charter includes the job description of the city administrator. Under it, if even a minor change in that job description is needed, the council must write an amendment, hold public hearings on it, approve it, vote to approve it as a ballot measure, and then wait and pay for the next election for the voters to approve that change. That is not efficient governance! Under the new charter, a resolution (publicly available) making the change would be drafted, discussed in open council and voted upon. Simple and efficient.
Constitution? Some claim that a charter is a “constitution,” like the constitution of the United States. As such, it cannot not be discarded or suffer an extensive re-write. Any changes needed should be done as piecemeal amendments.
Wrong. Today, in Oregon and most states, cities are “municipal corporations” engaged in the business of governing, with their councils as boards of directors with their citizens the shareholders. As such, a charter is more akin to corporate articles of incorporation and bylaws providing the general authorities for a city’s operation.
For example, Oregon’s capital Salem’s charter states that it is “…municipal corporation with the name City of Salem.” It is the same for ten other historic cities throughout Oregon. The Model Charter does not refer to the document as a “constitution.”
In legal theory, a chartered city obtains is authority from and under the state’s constitution. Oregon Constitution Article IV, Section 1a (1906) and Section 1(5) (1968) permits “the legal voters of every city…to enact and amend their municipal charter, …”
Salaries? Some cry that Section 9.1, stating in part: “By resolution, the Council may provide for monetary stipends for the Mayor and Councilors and/or for reimbursement of actual and necessary expenses incurred in pursuit of City business,” gives elected officers salaries.
Wrong. It is NOT a green light for the Council to approve salaries for itself. The reimbursement of expenses is taken from the Model Charter and current practice. The “stipend” authority was intended to cover extraordinary circumstances where a Councilor or Mayor was unable to fully discharge official duties because of the inability to pay for the care for a child, spouse or elderly relative or would otherwise be forced to leave work, without pay.
As the duties of elected officials become more complex and time consuming, getting competent citizens to serve becomes increasingly difficult if they must suffer financial hardship to do so. This provision is not automatic, requires Council approval and is consistent with modern, enlightened social practice.
Undue Influence? Complainers argue Section 7.9 allows summary sacking of elected officials.
Wrong. Taken from the Model Charter, this provision provides a meaningful remedy against abuses of power and conflicts of interest, while enhancing transparency in government. Elected officials are free to discuss any matter with appointees in open session. Under it, the council must first establish rules and hold a public hearing about possible removal action.
Steve Casaleggio, Candidate for Jacksonville City Council