City Clerk Donna Kinville addresses City Council members and City Manager Sandy Miller during the September 4th public hearings regarding the two opposing City Clerk Position charter change proposals.

City Council Proposed Charter Change vs. City Clerk Proposed Charter Change

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Thursday September 06, 2012

Stances concerning whether the City Clerk position should remain an elected position or become an appointed position remain unaltered even after further discussion of the matter during two public hearings on September 4.

Council has crafted a charter change that proposes the position of city clerk be an appointed one after current City Clerk Donna Kinville completes her elected term in 2014. Council considers their  proposal a move toward best business practices, enforcing more oversight regarding management of vital and confidential records and money.

For her proposal, Kinville collected enough citizen votes for a valid petition, and put into motion a charter change that the clerk would remain an elected position, would have full authority of disciplining, hiring and firing of her employees, and security of access and hours of operation in the office.

The contentious issue sparked discussion at the first public hearing on August 27 concerning the City Council’s proposal, and it brought back a crowd for the Council proposal’s second public hearing and the first hearing for Kinville’s position.

Prior to the September 4 hearings, Councilors Pam Mackenzie and Helen Riehle met with Kinville and their respective attorneys during a mediation meeting on August 31, which lasted six hours. Confidentiality papers were waived and Riehle shared the outcome with the public. Council proposed to have the clerk position remain elected for three one-year terms through 2017 before becoming an appointed position. The two parties did not come to a resolution.

Kinville spoke to Council during the second public hearing and addressed several concerns, including the employment histories of prior clerk’s office staff.  In addition, Kinville responded to concerns about employees ‘at will’ status should her petition pass, saying she would take steps to amend the status of clerk’s office employees, to maintain protections under the city’s collective bargaining agreement.

Kinville also reported that she had looked at funds collected between July 1 and August 1, with a focus on the first installment period of this year, to dissect the $17 million figure that Council says have been collected in the City Clerk’s office.  Kinville came to a different figure regarding collections.
“We in the clerk’s office collected just under 4 million dollars worth of tax dollars,” she said. “That equates to about 11 million a year for tax collections for walk-in payments with roughly only about $56,000 being collected in cash for the full year.”

As for the $300,000 that was said to be collected in clerk fees, only six percent of that is cash from last year’s fiscal year, she explained.

Resident Bill Cimonetti, Board of Civil Authority Chair and Charter Committee Chair Peter Taylor, and former City Clerk Peg Picard were among some of the individuals who spoke against the City’s proposal.

Cimonetti outlined the differences between an elected position and an appointed position, both of which he has held for the city and the state, he said.

“Appointees owe their position to those who appoint them,” he said. “Those elected clearly owe their position to the populous, the voters, the citizens of the city.”

Taylor implored the Council to seek resolutions to Kinville’s petition surrounding finance concerns.

“I believe there are ways to protect the city through audits and collection policies that the City Council has seemed to express...I believe all the administrative functions can be worked out,” he said.

A major point of concern still revolved around Kinville’s petition language and whether or not her employees would be protected under the collective bargaining agreement.

The Council, City Attorney Steve Stitzel, and Public Works Employee Association Union President Kim Lyons said the language suggests the employees would not be protected.

Kinville voiced at both the City’s second public hearing as well as the first public hearing for her own petition that her employees would not be “at will,” and that they would be protected. Once her petition reaches legislation, she said she will continue to clarify that point should there be any question.

The Council proceeded to state their individual stances after the discussion. The councilors were still unanimously in favor of the Council’s Charter change.

Councilor Paul Engels said that it is time to “professionalize government” and Mackenzie said that it is time to “move forward.”

Council Chair Rosanne Greco stated she still felt the clerk would be no different than the other city departments. She called the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and requested a list of Council responsibilities and clerk responsibilities. The City Council has 19 various responsibilities; Greco listed a few: general supervision of the affairs of the city, to enact ordinances and rules, to authorize all city expenditures, to borrow money, to fill all town vacancies, to license mini operations, among others. The city clerk has seven responsibilities: administer oaths of office, recall all proceedings of town meetings, issue various licenses, record all land records, record all vital records, serve as the presiding officer over all elections, and work with listers and getting the grand list.

The second public hearing for Kinville’s petition is Thursday, September 6 at 9 a.m. in City Hall. South Burlington voters will determine the fate of the clerk’s position in the November.

Until that time, “I hope we can all be professional in the coming months leading up to the vote on November 6,” Kinville said. “I realize we all have different roles in City government and that they sometimes collide.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent