Dowagiac voters reject charter amendment

Published 9:59 am Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dowagiac’s 50-plus-year-old charter remains unchanged following Tuesday’s election.

City voters chose to retain the right to select who represents them in city hall’s clerk’s office themselves, as they voted down the proposed city charter amendment during the presidential primary election, according to unofficial results from the Cass County Clerk/Register Office.

Voters rejected the proposed amendment by a little less than 100 votes, with 393 voting “yes” and 489 voting “no,” a margin of 55 to 45 percent.

The amendment, approved unanimously by city council last summer, would have amended the city charter to allow the position of city clerk to be changed from an elected position to one that would that be appointed by the city manager, with approval by council.

Current City Clerk Jane Phillipson Wilson will continue to serve her four-year term, which expires in 2020, and would have remained in office regardless of Tuesday’s vote. The amendment was originally slated to go to voters in November, before council voted to move the decision to the presidential primary in March in order to avoid confusion with the clerk race, which also took place during the general election last fall.

Per the city charter, passed by Dowagiac voters in 1964 and enacted into law in 1965, changes to the document can only be made with consent from city voters.

“From the get go, rather than let council force something down the populace, we would let them make the decision,” said Leon Laylin, a councilmember of Dowagiac’s Ward 3 and the city’s mayor pro tem. “We’re not disappointed by the result. We got the answer we were looking for.”

Mayor Don Lyons echoed similar sentiments, saying he was not disappointed in the results as either. The city merely offered voters an opportunity to change the charter in a manner that officials believed would increase efficiency and save money, and it was up to voters to decide whether or not they agreed, he said.

While he couldn’t speak for city council, Lyons said that he does not plan on continuing to pursue the idea of changing the way the city selects its clerk in the near future.

“We asked the voters for their opinion. They gave it to us and we’ll accept it and move on,” Lyons said.

Others in the community, such as Local Officers Compensation Committee member Andy Anderson, are pleased with the failure of the proposal. Anderson was a prominent voice for a group of citizens opposed to the passage of the amendment in the weeks leading up to the amendment.

“We were fairly confident it would fail,” Anderson said. “I think the council and administration didn’t quite understand the people in Dowagiac want to have a say in who their public officials are.”

The proposed change to the clerk position is one of several amendment proposals the city government may to introduce to local voters over the next several elections in an effort to update and modernize the document — among which includes a proposal to transform the city treasurer from an elected to appointed position as well. In spite of the election, officials are likely to continue pursuing placing these proposed amendments on ballots for future major elections, when appropriate, Lyons said.

“We’ll continue to move forward, and present more options to clean up the charter,” Lyons said. “Voters may not agree with that but that’s their right — that’s the power and privilege they hold.”