Voters encouraged to amend city charter in upcoming election

Published 6:05 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The following was written on behalf of the entire Dowagiac Charter Committee.

At the March 8 election Dowagiac voters will be asked to consider a change to the Dowagiac City Charter. The City Charter defines what the City shall and shall not do and how it is to perform those duties.

It has been over 50 years since that charter was written. Since then there has been no comprehensive review and only a few small changes.

In that 50 years, much has changed. Everything from computers to changes in state and federal laws has made the work place much different than it was 50 years ago. Dowagiac’s city charter needs to reflect those changes.

The city charter can only be changed by a vote of the citizens.

The identified changes are:

• Should the city clerk be appointed instead of elected?

• Should the city treasurer be appointed instead of elected?

• Should the positions of justice of the peace, city supervisor, and city constable be abolished?

• Should Dowagiac have its own local court system?

• State law prohibits a residency requirement for appointed staff members.

• Should Dowagiac’s charter be made consistent with state law?

• The charter requires that certain boards must meet quarterly. Should each board be allowed to set its own meeting schedule?

• Should the library board be abolished?

• Should the Electrical Facilities Board be abolished?

In order to have a charter that best reflects the will of the voters, each of these questions will be voted on one at a time.

The question on the March 8 ballot is: Should the city clerk be appointed instead of elected?

Under the existing charter the city clerk is elected every four years and is not subject to any administrative oversight. By law, the city clerk has no policy making or budget setting authority and is not required to keep office hours. The only current requirements for the city clerk is to keep a record of the city council’s meetings and to conduct elections. In addition, the city clerk also has a few minor administrative duties.

An appointed city clerk would be given more duties and required to keep office hours, making the position more cost effective and more responsive to the needs of the citizens.

The existing charter does not provide for any local oversight. As it is now, the only way the clerk can be removed from office is by a recall election or by the governor of the State of Michigan.

Appointing that position would return it to local control.

Many candidates don’t want to spend the time and money running for election every four years and the uncertainty of being re-elected also keeps many candidates from seeking the clerk’s job.

Most other cities in Michigan have already chosen to have an appointed City Clerk. Of the 204 cities in Michigan that have a clerk — 162, or almost 80 percent — have already chosen to have an appointed city clerk.

The Dowagiac City Council unanimously voted to place this resolution on the March 8 ballot.


Randy Gross