UH Charter Review Commission proposes 10 amendments
Last summer, University Heights City Council passed an ordinance to create a Charter Review Commission (CRC) for only the third time since the city’s founding in 1941. Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan chose four CRC members, and each council member chose one, bringing the total to 11 commissioners. The CRC, which met twice a month for 10 months, proposes the following 10 charter amendments:
Gender Neutrality: The CRC recommends a charter amendment that would replace gendered terms and language throughout the city’s charter with gender-neutral and gender-inclusive terms and language. This proposed amendment would correct the charter's long-standing sexist, androcentric language and replace it with language that communicates and promotes a more inclusive city and government.
Eliminating Term Limits: CRC recommends an amendment to eliminate term limits for elected officers of University Heights. Currently, the charter limits elected officials to serve no more than three consecutive four-year terms, or 14 consecutive years whether elected or appointed. This [term-limit] provision was approved by voters in 1995, when the national movement in favor of term limits reached its peak. However, since the 1990s, term limits have proven to be detrimental—rather than beneficial—to good government.
Law Director Appointment: Because the law director has a fiduciary relationship with the council and the mayor, this commission recommends that the mayor have the right to appoint the law director, subject to council's approval. The CRC believes that this strikes an appropriate balance of power between the mayor, who already possesses the power to appoint administrative officers, and the council, which has the power to reject such appointment[s] if it so desires. The CRC recommends additional language which vests the power to remove the law director in the mayor and the council, upon a vote of the majority.
Decennial Charter Review: The charter at present has no set date or procedure for charter review, and, to date, only three charter reviews have been approved by council since 1941. It is common practice for cities to have a set period in which the charter is reviewed. Best practices are reviewed between every five to 10 years. The CRC recommends a mandatory charter review every 10 years.
Department Name Modernization: The goal of this proposed amendment is to make the charter consistent with the titles and department names as currently used by the City and to guarantee the place of Public Safety within the administration and fix its organization.
Ranked Choice Voting: The CRC recommends an amendment providing for the election of the mayor and members of council by ranked choice voting (RCV). This would allow voters to rank, in order of preference, up to six candidates for an office or seat. The votes first would be counted using every voter’s first choice of candidate or candidates. If no candidate receives enough first-choice votes to win an office or seat, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and the counting of votes then proceeds to another round. In the next round, if a voter’s first choice of candidate has been eliminated, that voter’s second choice of candidate would be counted. The elimination process is repeated until each office or seat is filled. In University Heights mayoral elections, RCV would serve as an instant runoff that would require a candidate to win a majority, rather than plurality, of the vote to be elected.
Recall Elections: The CRC is recommending a Charter amendment changing the process for recall elections so that the removal of an elected officer by recall election results in a vacancy.
Initiative and Referendum: The CRC recommends a charter amendment that would reduce the number of signatures required on petitions for initiatives and referendums. The proposed amendment would reduce petition signature requirements by calculating them based on the total ballots cast in the city’s last regular municipal election rather than the percentage of registered voters in the city.
Council’s Presiding Officer: The CRC is recommending amendments to the charter that would relieve the mayor of the obligation to preside at all meetings of council. The commission recommends that the vice mayor preside at all council meetings, as council should have the responsibility of conducting its own meetings.
Anti-discrimination: The CRC recommends [an amendment stating] that the city shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or partnership status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, genetic information, pregnancy, citizenship status, caste, tribal affiliation or any other classification protected by applicable federal, state, or local law, unless reasonably necessary to normal operations and having a substantial relationship to job function and responsibilities.
The CRC will deliver its final report to the clerk of council May 31, and will present its report to city council on June 5. On June 20, council will vote on which amendments to place on the Nov. 7 ballot.
To review the CRC's report in its entirety, go to www.universityheights.com, click on Citizen Committees, and scroll to Charter Review Commission.
Stephen Wertheim, a 38-year resident of University Heights, chairs the city's Charter Review Commission.