City Clerk Charter issue Stalled

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Thursday May 31, 2012

A proposal to make final changes to the way the City Clerk’s office is run still has not made its way back onto the City Council’s agenda.  City Clerk Donna Kinville first began pursuing the topic last June. After starting a petition in November of last year, Kinville’s request was added to the Council agenda.  However, there was not enough time for the Charter Committee to do a thorough investigation in time for the March ballot. 

Kinville has worked with the charter committee, first in an official capacity as a member and later as an advisor, to try to begin a discussion for charter change regarding the City Clerk’s role. Kinville, who has served the City in the capacity of clerk for 11 years, is looking for stronger definitions in the City Charter around the Clerk’s job definition.

The Charter Committee finished its review of the situation, and made its recommendation in a February 21 report to make a change to the city charter as follows:”The City Clerk shall be an elected officer with all the powers and duties granted by this Charter and general state law, including, without limitation, the power to appoint, discipline, and remove assistants.” 

In researching the issue, the Charter Committee found that “Vermont statutes have established a long history of the independence and autonomy of the elected City Clerk position,” according to their report.

The Charter Committee further recommended that the ballot item on the charter change be considered for the primary election in August 2012, pointing out that “if adopted by the voters this would be in time for a charter change to be considered in the 2013 Legislative Session.”

However, it is looking unlikely that the issue will make the August ballot, as it has yet to be put on the City Council’s agenda. 

According to  City Council Chair Rosanne Greco, at its May 21st meeting this year, the Council approved an official process for placing items on the agenda which states that “the Chair and the City Manager set the agenda items.”

Greco explained that “at the end of every City Council meeting, other Councilors can suggest items be placed on a future agenda.  If a majority approves, it will be placed on a subsequent agenda.  Ideally, we’d like to identify agenda items at least a month in advance of our meetings.  We place items on the agenda, when possible, to minimize the time that the staff [or] paid consultants and requesters [or] applicants have to spend at the meetings.”

Also, Greco points out that the Council has  “agreed upon our priorities for the coming year.  So, we will try as much as possible to work on our priorities while still accomplishing the many other tasks required of us (responding to requests for permits, administrative actions, appointments, time-sensitive matters, etc).”

Kinville has not given up the idea of circulating a petition to accelerate the process. (Items that garner adequate signatures can circumvent the City Council and be placed directly on the ballot.) “I’m not getting answers and it’s just getting pushed around,” she told The Other Paper regarding the proposed charter change.  “I feel like I was played last time, and this feels like an extension of that.”

The Council has yet to discuss the charter change, however, they have made some staffing changes relevant to the city clerk’s office.

Also at its May 21 meeting, the City Council voted to have the treasurer’s position fall under the purview of the assistant city manager rather than the city clerk as it had been historically.

“I was replaced with no discussion in public as to the exact reasons why, other than it was the auditor’s suggestion, with no specifics,” Kinville told The Other Paper after the meeting. “They didn’t listen when I asked to make sure that the Treasurer be supervised by someone other than the City Manager to maintain the ability of the Treasurer to speak out if something is not per charter or state statue without the fear of losing their job.”

Kinville pointed out that this situation may cause problems down the road for Assistant City Managers who don’t speak out when they notice something wrong with a budget, or other city financial situation. “However,” she went on to say “they decided that Bob [Rusten, Assistant City Manager] has the backbone to go and speak out if anything is amiss but [Rusten] won’t always be there; they haven’t thought of the future.” 

In addition, the City has asked Kinville to sign a memorandum of understanding as they have asked her to continue collecting taxes, a task which up until this point has belonged to the City Treasurer, not the City Clerk.

SOURCE: Annalisa Parent, Correspondent