New Baltimore Learns About Charter Revision Process
The town hall meeting took place Monday night inside Anchor Bay Middle School North in New Baltimore.
An expert on city charter revisions spoke Monday night at a New Baltimore town hall meeting.
Voters will decide Aug. 7 whether the city charter should be revised. If approved, voters would then cast ballots to elect nine candidates for the charter commission in November. Those nine people would meet publicly and decide what changes should be made to the charter. The revisions could be anything from adding city positions, updating language in the 1973 documents or governmental reform, said Eric Lupher, director of local affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
The commission members, who may be volunteers or paid by the city, would have up to three years to finish their work—although they could be done as early as a few months. The charter revision would be subject to state authorization and then go back to voters for approval, Lupher said.
While various changes could be made through amending the charter, government reform would require a revision, he said.
Government reform debate
The notion to explore city government reform—switching from a strong-mayor format to having a city manager spearhead operations—came up in March at a City Council meeting.
"It's been something that came up a lot during campaigning," first-term councilman Stanton then said. "Business owners had brought it up to me; citizens have brought it up to me."
At an April council meeting, the New Baltimore Citizens Advisory Committee, comprising 10 active residents, said it favored bringing on a city manager after scrutinizing the charter commission. It also wants to update inaccurate or outdated language in the charter.
"The mayor has a lot of power over the six other people who are elected and this isn't any reflection of any one individual," said Laurie Huff, longtime resident and committee member.
Huff added that the current administration has done a fine job, but that the city needs to think about future elected leaders as well.
Mayor Larry Smith countered after that spring meeting, "It just appears that a lot of this is being done as a personal affront towards me and I don't know why that is."
Smith pointed out to council during the meeting that he makes approximately $40,000 in his full-time role—the lowest of city department heads—and does not receive benefits. A city manager for a community of this size, he said, makes about $95,000 annually with a benefit package alone that costs the same as his yearly salary, he said.
After the Monday town hall meeting, the mayor said council members who wanted the city manager position have been toning down that aspect of the charter revision process by making it more about updating language.
"Now they're trying to back-track out of it," he said of government reform. But, he added changing government format is "exactly what they're trying to do."
Lupher noted during the meeting that many other Michigan city charters were written before 1973.
"The age itself doesn't make it outdated," he said.
Although, Councilwoman Florence Hayman said, "For me personally, I just want the charter revised."
She said several aspects of the charter should be brought to present day and voters should have a chance to decide on the revision.
"I really think it can be done cost-effectively," she said, adding that the commission members could be volunteers who meet in donated city space.
Mailings opposed to revision questioned
Several city officials said Monday that many New Baltimore households received anonymous mailings about a week ago that urged residents to vote against the charter revision.
"We've had some illegal advertisement in the community with false information," Councilwoman Susan Burkhardt said during the town hall meeting.
Smith, who said he doesn't know who sent the postcards, checked with the Macomb County Election Commission about the material. He said it is not illegal for a citizen to privately send out mailings at their own expense.
Clerk Marcia Shinska agreed that her research found there's nothing illegal about the mailings.
"You don't have to put 'Committee to Elect,'" on the mailings, she said.
Burkhardt said she was going to look further in the matter.