City finds support, opposition to proposed charter amendment

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The chambers of the Dowagiac City Council were more packed than usual Monday, as more than a dozen residents showed up to learn more about — and sound off about — the upcoming city charter amendment proposal on the March 8 ballot.

Following the completion of the council’s regularly scheduled agenda that evening, the city hosted a public hearing about the upcoming proposal, which will ask voters whether or not they want to amend the more than 50-year-old charter to transform the position of city clerk from an elected to appointed position.

Several people in the audience that evening asked questions to the council, some stating their support of the initiative and others their opposition.

The city opened the discussion by sharing some of the background of the charter amendment, which if passed by voters next month would turn the position of city clerk from one elected by the public to one that would be appointed by the city manager with approval by city council. Discussion of what to do with the position came up while former city clerk Jim Snow was looking to retire, said Mayor Pro Tem Leon Laylin.

“At this time, around 80 percent of the state has went with appointed [clerk] positions rather than elected,” Laylin said.

Passed unanimously by council last summer, the amendment proposal was originally slated to go before voters last November; however, with the city clerk election falling on the same ballot, the city decided to move the decision to the March presidential primary to avoid confusion.

The amendment is one of several changes the city is considering making to update its city charter over the next several years, which can only be made by amendments passed by city residents. Among the proposed updates is also turning the position of city treasurer from an elected to appointed position as well.

Local resident Andy Anderson was one of the people who weighed in on the charter amendment during Monday’s hearing.

“I think we ought, as citizens, to have the right to select our city clerk and our city treasurer, because it creates a balance for the community of elected officials who are accountable to us and appointed officials who are the responsibility of the council,” Anderson said. “I think that’s a very good process. …I hope the citizens of Dowagiac tell you that.”

Anderson is a member of the Local Officers Compensation Committee, which had no role in helping the city come up with proposed charter amendment, he said.

An earlier report in the Daily News may have confused some citizens into thinking the LOCC formally supported this charter change.

While stating he is not accusing the present administration of any wrongdoing, Anderson said he felt the proposed amendment appeared to be an attempt to take further authority from local voters.

“I would urge citizens of Dowagiac to say ‘no, we want to have the authority, we want to have our checks and balances,’” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, resident Karen Judd expressed her support of the charter amendment. A longtime member of the Lee Memorial Foundation board, Judd said it was standard practice for governing bodies to update their laws and that Dowagiac’s charter is in long need of updating.

Judd said the city manager and council should have the authority to select the members of city hall’s administration, similar to how the school district or college currently operates.

“Those are tax institutions,” Judd said. “Why should we be any different? That’s just the way things are, and I strongly encourage you keep going on with what you are doing.”