Review Committee talks changes to McAlester City Charter

James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
·5 min read

Apr. 29—Members of the McAlester City Charter Review Committee think the current city charter has held up well, but could still benefit from some select changes and amendments.

They are in the process of selecting which amendments they would like to pitch to voters, who ultimately must approve any changes to the document.

Charter Review Committee members met Monday at City Hall to discuss possible changes, at times presenting contrasting opinions on the best way to handle proposed amendments to the document. They took a look at 15 different parts of the charter, although they have a goal of narrowing the list before they are through.

McAlester Mayor John Browne appointed the Review Committee members, which include Ward 1 City Councilor Weldon Smith and retired District 18 District Judge James Bland, as well as former McAlester Mayors Kevin Priddle and Steve Harrison.

They are tasked with reviewing the existing city charter and compiling a report of how they think it could be tweaked to fine-tune some areas and get rid of unintended consequences in others. Some items in the city charter may be reviewed with a conclusion that no changes are needed.

When the review is complete, members will submit their report to the McAlester City Council, which will vote on which suggested changes should be presented to the voters.

Simply because an item was discussed didn't necessarily mean it was targeted for changes. Some items simply needed something added or taken away for clarification.

Items discussed by the Charter Review Committee included:

—Section 2.02 (a) — Eligibility. The charter states only registered voters who have resided in the city for at least two years shall be qualified to run for mayor, with city council candidates also required to have resided for a year in the ward they wish to represent. A proposed change would tie the two-year requirement end-date to immediately preceding the first day of the candidate filing period, or as an alternative, immediately prior to the election certification.

—Section 2.02 (d) — Term limitations. Currently, the charter states no more than 12 years can be served as a mayor, councilman, or combination of the two. A proposed change states the mayor elected in 2024 shall not have a partial term counted in the 12-year term limitation because of plans to make that term for three years in order to adjust the mayor's term to an odd-numbered year.

Any individual who is term-limited by 2024 may not run for mayor and serve the three-year initial term, according to a proposed amendment.

—Section 2.03 (b) — Election of mayor and vice-mayor. Discussion has centered on the election of the vice mayor, who is a city councilor elected to vice mayor's position by other city councilors. A proposed change would specify the vice mayor should be selected during the first regular council meeting following the election's certification.

Another proposed addition would adjust the city's mayoral election to an odd-numbered year. "In order to give all council members the opportunity to run for mayor without giving up their council seats, the mayor elected in 2024 will have a three-year term which will end in 2027. All elections after 2024 will be for four-year terms, a proposed amendment states.

—Section 2.06 (c) — Filing of vacancies and add Section 2.06 (d). James Brown, who was being treated for complications from COVID-19, died Feb. 2, leaving the Ward 4 seat vacant. Due to the way state election laws are written, Sept. 14 is the soonest a special election could be called to fill the vacancy.

This is designed to give the city an opportunity to fill the seat on a temporary basis until an election can be held. A proposed amendment states: "If the unexpired term is initially one year or longer, and the time before a special election could be held results in the elected official's term being less than one year and the special election is more than three months after the seat has been vacated, the council and mayor may appoint an individual to fill the vacated seat until the special election can be held."

—Section 3.01 — City manager: appointment, qualifications, compensation and periodic evaluations. The consensus so far is to leave the current qualifications for the city manager in place.

Other items the Charter Review Committee is considering include:

—Section 3.03 — Acting city manager

—Section 3.06 (a) — Purchases

—Section 3.06 (b) — Competitive bidding

—Section 3.06 (c) — Sale of property valued at more than $50,000

—Section 3.06 (d) — Sale of economic development property

—Section 5.07 — Midyear Budget Review

—Section 5.11 Capital program

—Section 6.01 Council members: Methods of electing

—Section 6.05 (f) (1) Action by council (recall elections)

—Section 7.01 (b) Board of Ethics

Smith suggested the Charter Review Committee meet again in about two weeks, with an exact date and time still to be determined.

As the meeting neared its end, Smith asked everyone to take another look at the city charter to make sure they were not missing anything that needs to be addressed.

"Everybody review the charter and see if you find anything else," Smith said.

Also attending the meeting were City Manager Pete Stasiak, Assistant City Manager Toni Ervin, City Clerk Cora Middleton and City Grant Writer Stephanie Giacomo.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.