City Clerk Charter Changes won’t see Ballot

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Thursday February 16, 2012

City Clerk Donna Kinville wants to see some changes in the way her office is run. Kinville, who has served the City in the capacity of clerk for 11 years, is looking for clarification of duties,  stronger definitions in the City Charter regarding Clerk’s office employees, and a clearer process for determining keyholders.

Kinville’s proposed City Charter amendment reads: The City Clerk shall have all powers and duties established by general state law, including the power to appoint, supervise, and remove all assistant town clerks.

There are currently two assistant clerks, however, a personnel issue last year brought questions in Kinville’s mind. “Any time you have an elected official and someone who’s not elected, you have potential conflict,” Kinville told The Other Paper.  “The idea of an elected clerk is to speak out if something’s not right, and I thought to myself, will I have that right?”

Kinville began conversations with city staff to get the issue before City Council to no avail.  Kinville hired an attorney to look over the City Charter and State Statute, who advised her that the definitions of the clerk’s responsibilities “were not being applied the way the City Charter described,” Kinville said. “In order to make this clearer, I introduced this charter change so that we know what everyone’s responsibilities and duties are.”

However, a clarification of duties is not Kinville’s only concern. She is also concerned about the keys to the clerk’s office. 

All of the locks in City Hall were changed recently, and Kinville took this as an opportunity to begin keeping track of who had access to the office. “I asked who had the keys,” she said.  “I was told the Clerk staff and that there was one in the Human Resources office behind lock and key.  Come to find out that wasn’t the case.”  

“One day,” Kinville told The Other Paper, “I turned around, and there was an electrician letting himself in. He’s not even a city employee.”

“I’m not saying people can’t have access to the office,” she clarified.   “But I think that I should be a part of that conversation.”

Kinville suggested adding a passage to the City Charter that reads “The City clerk shall grant access upon request.”

“It gives the idea that the clerk is the one who controls access to the documents,” she explained.  “I can’t be held accountable if I don’t even know who has access. That’s probably one of the most disturbing things and I really want to protect the citizens.”

City Manager Sandy Miller answered Kinville’s key concern at the January 3 City Council meeting.  “We have precise control over our keys,” he told the Council.  “We know exactly where they are and we’ve communicated that to you,” he told Kinville. “So, there’s no floating around of keys.  They’re very tightly controlled, can’t be duplicated, and are appropriate per state statute and the charter.”

Kinville first began the conversation around changes last summer.  “I’ve been trying since June to get [this change] on the ballot,” Kinville told The Other Paper  “I was told we didn’t want to have too many things on the ballot for citizens to consider.”

Kinville became frustrated with the process, and began circulating a petition.   (Items of City business  that garner adequate signatures can circumvent the City Council and be placed directly on the ballot.)

“I tried to play nice,” Kinville explained. “I believe in working as a team. I’m not out to have a power trip, but I forced this issue to the Council by circulating a petition.  I had just started with the petition when word got out, and that got me before them.”

Kinville first proposed her idea to the Council at its regularly scheduled January 3rd meeting.  At that time, City Manager Sandy Miller recommended that the Council refer the issue to the City Charter Committee, and scheduled two public hearings on the issue on January 30 and February 6.

Kinville, who had been serving on the Charter Committee until that time, stepped down, so as not to be in conflict of interest.  The committee began to research the issue, reading the descriptions of the clerk’s position in the City Charter and state statute. 

At the February 6 public hearing, Charter Committee Chair Peter Taylor requested an extension on behalf of the Committee. Taylor recommended that the Council place the issue on the primary ballot in August or November.

“Both would be in time for 2013 legislative session,” he told the Council. 

“We will look at the regulations regarding elected versus appointed clerks, and the current city charter.”

“Though the city manager and the City Council set the budget for the city clerk’s office, independence of the office seems to be supported by state law.  It’s fair to say that some actions can take place in the personnel manual in order to avoid a charter change.”  Taylor anticipated that it would take the Charter Committee no longer than a month to complete its evaluation.

Meanwhile, Kinville at the February 6th hearing, urged the Council to place the item on the ballot, nevertheless.

“In the past couple of months, I tried to get onto your agenda, and was unable to do so,” Kinville told the City Council.  “I have worked in good faith trying to go forth with this. I have done everything I can to go forth with this.  It’s not for my lack of preparation in this. I just need to have this put forth. I hate to say it, but if I had known that this is what it would’ve come down to, I would’ve gone forth with the petition.  I am asking you to make this right and put it on the March ballot.”

The City Council did not vote to put the item on the March 6th ballot, but to continue the public hearing until such time as they hear from the Charter Committee.

“It would seem to be the best policy to wait until we have a full report to give the public something to weigh in on,” City Councilor Jim Knapp said.

Kinville is not sure what her next steps are in a struggle she compares to David and Goliath, citing the fact that the “City has ability to hire the city attorney, to pay them to look into this.”

“It hasn’t been a nice process,” she told The Other Paper, “but it’s the right thing to do. That’s been my motivation for going on.”

“I don’t feel like this is being worked out,” she concluded.  “That’s the risk I took when I decided to play nice. The other option is to go back to the petition and then it has to go on the ballot. That’s why I stopped the petition, so we could have dialogue and it’s not happening.”

SOURCE: Annalisa Parent, Correspondent