Charter Commission and City Government

U. S. ConstitutionAt its January meeting, the Northfield Charter Commission discussed its priorities for this year's agenda. Already, I may have lost half of you: even well educated, connected and involved citizens have asked me what the charter commission is (I serve on this commission.). The commission serves an important role in the governance of the community; in fact it plays a crucial role in what our community's governance looks like.

Northfield operates as a “chartered city” -- meaning it operates under its own charter or constitution. While this charter is subservient to the state constitution – much like the state constitution is subservient to the U. S. constitution – the charter details what form of government the city operates. Essentially, our charter details the roles and responsibilities of the top government officials of the city – elected, appointed and hired. All policies and actions of the city are subject to the charter's provisions.

The Northfield Charter Commission works to keep this charter up to date with state law and with the evolving complexity of the city's needs for governance while balancing the need for stability and checks and balances within the system. A quality charter rises above political personalities and needs -- to overall governance philosophies.

Due to the potential impact of changes to the charter, they must meet a higher threshold of approval than other city laws. The charter commission is appointed by the local judge – not the city council (the council does recommend the appointments). Changes take the unanimous approval of the council to become effective – and even then only after a long approval and waiting process. If the council fails to unanimously approve the changes, the commission can call a referendum vote of the citizens on the change. Some of you may recall such a vote a couple of years ago on changing to a “city manager” form of government from our stated “strong mayor – council” form.

So what is the commission currently working on? At our January meeting, we set three priorities for this year.

First, we want to complete our work on provision 7.2 regarding the removal of the city administrator. We have nearly completed revisions to this section that clarify the rights an administrator has when being removed and the process to be followed. We will be working with the council toward the approval of these changes.

Second, we want to look at chapter 14 regarding city hospitals. We are just beginning discussions of issues we see in this chapter and whether they warrant change.

Third, we will be looking at the roles and relationships between the mayor, council, administrator, city clerk/finance director and other department heads. Part of this will involve understanding the previously mentioned referendum, recent changes to the charter under Ordinance 801, current practice, etc. then deciding whether changes are warranted.

If you would like to learn more, check out the following links:

Ordinance 801 should be available through the public library or city hall upon request.

Also, if you are interested, there is an opening on the charter commission. Applicants are encouraged to notify Mayor Lee Lansing of their interest.

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Informative article Alex.  Much appreciated.