City Charter changes were denied.

Charter Changes Denied

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Thursday April 25, 2013

On the November ballot, South Burlington residents had the opportunity to vote on changes to the city charter. A library charter change as well as articles regarding whether the City Clerk position would remain elected or become appointed were proposed. 

Article I required a yes or no response and would have made the South Burlington Community Library a Department of the City of South Burlington. The trustees would serve as an advisory body to the City Council on issues such as the library’s mission, location, and fundraising to support these areas. They would also have had the authority to amend, adopt, and repeal bylaws which did not impact library finances. A library director would have been chosen by the city and would have served as a City Department Head. The article was passed by nearly 73% of the voters; 5975 voted yes, 2,231 were opposed.

Article II stipulated that the clerk’s position would become appointed in March 2014, when the current City Clerk’s elected term of office was up. After that point the position would become appointed by a majority City Council vote annually with the Clerk being a South Burlington resident unless the Council decided to waive this requirement. The result was that 4,009 voted in favor and 4,055 opposed for a total of 8,064 votes.

Article III was for an elected City Clerk position. The clerk would be responsible for all aspects of operating the clerk’s office including limiting access after hours. The staff, if they qualified, would be members of the local bargaining unit, but exempt from provisions regarding hiring, firing, and disciplining. The clerk’s duties would include appointments and management of all staff of the clerk’s office. For Article III, 5,852 voted in favor and 2,150 were opposed, for a total of 8,002 votes.
If both Articles II and III were voted no by a majority, status would stay the same with the clerk remaining elected, but with the same unresolved issues. If one article received a majority of yes votes, that one would go to the legislature for proposed changes and decision. If the articles both received a majority of yes votes, they would both go to the legislature for a decision to accept part, all or none of the proposed article.

In a memorandum from the House Committee on Government Operations dated April 10, 2013, they explain why they do not intend to pass the charter changes out of committee.  They did not feel confident that these changes reflected the will of the voters for several reasons. In regard to the City Clerk Articles, they said, “A clerk can either be elected or appointed; the votes indicate to us that some voters voted “yes” for both articles. Moreover, the total votes cast for Article I, regarding the Library Trustees, were 8,206. This indicates to us that it is possible some voters were confused by Articles II and III and therefore did not vote on either of those articles.

Regarding the library trustees, under the proposed charter changes, the City Council and City Manager would have overall control of the library. The memorandum states, “This appears to us to be a significant departure from general law under 22 V.S.A. 143 where a board of trustees has the full power to manage a municipality’s library, including the ability to appoint a library director.”

Additionally there were concerns that the proposed charter changes were not duly warned.

As a result of both charter changes being denied, Deputy City Manager Bob Rusten explained at the April 15th council meeting, the steps that are being taken toward a short term solution. In terms of the City Clerk charter change, Rusten has received legal counsel and even though the statute doesn’t state it, the clerk is an elected three year term and therefore, will remain so until the statute language is changed. Regarding the issues of office access and staffing, they will function under the terms which the Council, the Association, and the Clerk agreed to at the last Council meeting. How the Clerk position and associated duties will function for the time being will be based upon the agreement that has been reached between the three parties. Rusten explained that whenever the next voting period occurs, voters will see an item that contains language the City attorney has come up with to reflect these changes and that is what they will be voting on. 

As for the library, the language in the memorandum of understanding will stay in place until the legislature decides what to do. The library trustees will discuss it and Rusten is going to initiate a conversation between the library Chair, Vice Chair, Kevin Dorn and himself to see if they can come to an agreement on how to function in the interim. Rusten said that if the legislature is going to act, it likely will not be until next year.

Jennifer Kochman, former Chair of the library board spoke at the council meeting on April 15th.  She said that she testified before the house committee in hopes that they would reject the charter change. “I hope a more complete, full process can be used moving forward long term,” Kochman said, “ We need to think about what’s going to be in the best interest of the library. That has always been my greatest concern.”

Kochman also mentioned that the head librarian for the State of VT Department of Libraries testified as well, saying that when she looked at the article in the voting booth, she didn’t like the inconsistencies and thought it gave too much power to the City.

Bob Rusten returned to the microphone a final time to simply re-iterate that only 73% of voters agreed to the language on the library charter change. One of the issues they were trying to address through the change was delineating between administrative tasks and authority and how to help the Trustees best focus their energies.

The Council seemed satisfied with the solutions Rusten proposed. City Clerk Donna Kinville, who was present at Monday night’s meeting, said that she is confident that, with the short term plan in place, a long term solution will be capable of being reached.  

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent