July 24, 2013
Charter talks continued at the Southwest Oklahoma Republican Women’s dinner meeting on Tuesday evening, July 23, at the Best Western in Altus. Charter for Progress representative Christopher Riffle, with Charter Board of Freeholders member Jason Winters, clarified the purpose of a charter and introduced several of its highlights to attendees.
Guest speaker Chris Riffle provided as many as 20 copies of the draft charter and a handout titled, “Forms of Municipal Government in Oklahoma” (author unknown) stating 14 cases in which a city charter supersedes state statutes as long as it’s not in conflict with Oklahoma State law or the U.S. Constitution. “The constitution specifies that any town of 2,000 or above allows a city to establish home rule,” Riffle explained.
The foremost purpose of the Charter is to establish “home rule,” allowing the City to operate within its own provisions instead of those statutes imposed by the state. “The very purpose of a charter is to not have to abide by certain state statutes,” Riffle explained.
According to Riffle, Altus is the largest city in Oklahoma to use the statutory aldermanic form of government. “It’s sort of a one size fits all, and it works very well for a very small town,” Riffle said.
“A charter gives Altus the ability to be a little unique with its own customizations,” added Freeholder Jason Winters. “Hopefully it will be beneficial for how Altus is special in this little corner, with Ag, with military, with just how our city is composed.”
Riffle provided a brief overview on the drafting process before talking on the significant points listed within the charter.
“A main component of the charter specifies a new format,” Riffle explained. “We’re going to go to a council-manager form of government that is the prevailing format for our size city and larger.” The format calls for an appointed City Manager to be the City Chief Executive Officer, while the Mayor would become a 9th voting member of the City Council with very little administrative duty. “That city manager works for the Council and in effect works for the people,” Riffle said.
“It gives us a really good chance to give us a very qualified individual as long as the council does a good job in hiring him or her,” Winters said.
Elected Council members will still be involved in day to day issues, Riffle informed, but would also be free of most administrative aspects. Age and residency requirements, and term limits, are also set forth in the charter, and the election process of Council members would change. “At the end of the day you will have two councilman from each ward, one with be an at large elected councilman, and one will be ward only.”
In addition, Council members would not be paid for their service to the City, but would receive travel expense reimbursement. There will also be a recall procedure in place for citizens to remove an officer if the need presents itself.
Riffle pointed out other “pivotal positions” listed in the Charter that include Police Chief qualifications, a merit system, a personnel board for city workers who want to file grievances against the city, and a preventative measure to ensure the City’s electric utilities are not sold without a special vote of the people. Riffle explained that the Charter can be amended in the future.
“I hope that I’ve been informative, and if I haven’t imparted some knowledge, than at least I’ve sparked some desire to dig into this thing and read into it and learn more about it,” Riffle said at the closing of his presentation.
The draft charter will be published for public reading every Sunday in The Altus Times until Aug. 11, and is also available online at charterforprogress.com
The Special city-wide election will be held on Sept. 10.