POINT PLEASANT — The effort to amend the City of Point Pleasant’s Charter has hit a snag.
During this week’s public hearings to take comments on four proposed charter amendments, three residents objected to the proposals which members of city council and the city attorney had prepared for review.
Dennis Rayburn, Keith Biggs and former Councilman Sam Juniper lodged formal, written objections to the proposed charter amendments dealing with city wards, officers, conduct of elections and duties, bonds and compensation of appointed officers.
In terms of wards, objections by Biggs and Rayburn stated the new amendment removed the original boundary information which should be retained for historical purposes and be used to understand any future ward boundary changes. Juniper’s objection on the amendment dealing with wards stated he believed the appropriate research hadn’t been done to confirm a change to the charter hadn’t already been made, changing the number of city wards from four to eight.
Juniper, Biggs and Rayburn also all took issue with the amendment dealing with duties, bonds and compensation of appointed officers. To summarize, the objections stated the language in the amendment for increasing the salaries of elected officials during their term in office was in conflict with the state’s constitution. Biggs also stated the section was incorrectly titled, and didn’t mention elected council members, only appointed officers.
In relation to the amendment dealing with officers, all three men protested the change which allows appointed officers to live outside the city limits. These officers include anyone who holds the position of street commissioner, city attorney, chief of police.
In July 2007, City Attorney R.F. Stein, who openly resides outside the city limits, was appointed by a council on which Juniper sat with Juniper making the motion to appoint Stein. Juniper also voted for the appointment of Chief of Police Ernie Watterson. Watterson openly lives outside the city limits as well.
When asked about his votes in 2007, Juniper said he didn’t know for approximately one year after he was elected to office that the two men didn’t live in the city or that the charter prohibited appointed officers from living outside the city. Last year, while on council, Juniper proposed a hiring ordinance for city employees which would require all new city employees be a resident of Point Pleasant or become a resident 90 days after becoming an employee - this proposal never got a second and died for lack of a motion.
When asked about the charter amendment dealing with officers, Stein said it still requires the mayor, city clerk, council-at-large members and council members to reside in Point Pleasant, and for council members to reside within their wards. He added the amendment says appointed officers must reside within Mason County - both Stein and Watterson reside within the county.
Given that public hearings were being held on the proposed changes, Stein said this was an obviously transparent process involving changes prepared by not only himself but some members of council. He, along with these members of council, had met for work sessions to amend the charter in sections rather than all at once because of what was described as the large amount of updating that needed to be done to the historic document.
Rayburn and Juniper protested the fact the charter changes were not all being done at once and then submitted for approval at one time. Rayburn wrote he felt “piecemeal amendment of the charter without recommendation documented by the charter board increases the opportunity for conflict of the charter language and unnecessary financial burden as well as increasing required time limitations for amendment referenced in Chapter 8 of the West Virginia Code.”
During recent council meetings when the charter updates were discussed, it was described as having inaccuracies and just plain antiquated, sometimes politically incorrect, language which needed corrected to reflect the way the city has been operating for years, and to reflect 2012 for that matter. For example, the city’s current charter states there shall be two council people elected from each ward and obviously, that is not what the current city council, which consists of one councilperson from each ward, reflects, or has reflected for some time.
Stein said the law in West Virginia provides two avenues to make changes to a city’s charter. One of those avenues being to develop the proposed amendments, as council and Stein had done, provide public hearings and three readings of the amendments which would then be voted upon by council. However, if there are formal objections lodged against this process, if those objections aren’t rescinded within 10 days, this avenue of amending the charter is stopped. The only other avenue to amend the charter is to put it on the ballot during the next municipal election in 2016 or hold a special election - these options cost money and a special election could easily cost the city several thousands of dollars, Stein said.
There were also objections to the amendment dealing with conduct of elections, stating it does not allow for a municipal voter that works as a poll worker in a precinct other than the one they reside in to vote a provisional ballot.