Voters should vote to amend charter Tuesday

Published 10:49 am Monday, March 7, 2016

On Tuesday, voters living in Dowagiac will once again be heading to the polls for the presidential primary.

Whether or not voters choose to nominate a presidential candidate for the Republican or Democratic parties — or simply choose to not vote for any party — all city voters will be asked another important question: Whether or not they wish for position of city clerk to be appointed by the city government rather than elected by voters.

A proposed amendment to the city’s 50-year-old city charter, if passed by voters Tuesday, would change the language of the charter to allow the city manager to appoint the city’s main election officer and record keeper. Currently, the city clerk is an elected position. Just last November, voters elected Jane Phillipson Wilson to continue serving the office, following her appointment to the position earlier that year after longtime clerk James Snow retired.

Should the amendment pass, Wilson will continue to serve as clerk until her four-year term expires in 2019.

The proposed amendment comes following an extensive evaluation of the charter, enacted into law in 1964 by city officials. As a result of this study, the city council plans on creating several amendment proposals that, if approved by voters, would change the charter language to better reflect the needs of the community throughout the next few years.

These changes would include removing references to outdated positions or institutions such as justice of the peace, city supervisor and city constable. Another proposed change would change the position of city treasurer from an elected to appointed position as well.

The first of these proposals up is the city clerk decision — and we feel that voters should vote to approve this amendment.

While giving up direct control of the position may be a bitter pill for some city voters to swallow, we feel that the benefits of having the city administration select the clerk outweigh this loss.

Currently, the only way to become city clerk is to either run for office or to be appointed in the case that the position becomes vacant. Given the requirements of running for an elected office, it is possible that qualified candidates in the future may choose not to seek the office should it remain an elected position.

By having the city manager appoint the position, seeking the office would simply require job seekers to fill out an application and submit it to the city, like they would any other job. By simplifying the process, the pool of potential candidates for the position could increase dramatically.

Also, an appointed clerk would give the city added oversight into the performance of the position. At the moment, the clerk can only be removed from office via a recall election, which would first require citizens to file a petition, or by order of the governor. By making the position appointed, the clerk would answer to the city government.

While the argument could be made that making the clerk’s job an appointed position removes local citizens’ voices from the decision entirely, this isn’t necessarily the case as the city manager’s appointment must be approved by members of the city council, who themselves are elected officials. Should voters have concerns about the person the city manager has recommended for the position, they could voice them to their local councilmember.

We encourage voters to choose to amend the city charter Tuesday, as we believe it will best benefit our community in the long run.


Opinions expressed are those of the editorial board consisting of Publisher Michael Caldwell and editors Ambrosia Neldon, Craig Haupert, Ted Yoakum and Scott Novak.