City officials discover conflicting election statutes

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The Altus City Attorney and City Manager have uncovered a complex set of state statutes that conflict with each other. Still, they said they are working with local and state officials to find a solution to allow voters to decide the fate of the Board of Freeholders recommended changes for the City Charter.

City Attorney Michael Beason and City Manager Gary Jones were trying to figure the timelines between when the Board of Freeholders submitted its recommendations to the City Council and when to schedule the election.

One conflict is that the Board of Freeholders have until next week to submit the ballot language for 23 propositions to the City Council before the board is dissolved after reaching its 90-day limit of operation. The City Council was expected to vote on a resolution to place the questions on the ballot during Tuesday’s meeting. The Altus Times went to press at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but the City Council meeting didn’t start until 6:30 p.m.

The state requires all 23 propositions to be published in a legal newspaper, The Altus Times, in this case, and then the election must be held within 30 days, but not sooner than 20 days, after the last publication of the legal notices. That’s a 10-day window of when the election could be held.

The earliest the election could be held would be at least 20 days after the third publication of the legal notices, which, if approved Tuesday night, would be Feb. 27. That would likely put the election day on Tuesday, March 24.

But when Beason and Jones went to the Jackson County Election Board, they were informed that by state statute, the ballot language must be submitted at least 60 days before the election.

Meeting both the 60-day requirement and holding the election within 30 days of the last publication of the legal notices will never work, they determined. At the same time, the Board of Freeholders will dissolve on Feb. 12.

Beason and Jones have been in contact with the state election board, the state attorney general’s office and Oklahoma Municipal League to find a way to make it work.

Members of the Board of Freeholders were expected to reconvene Thursday and Friday to finalize ballot language, but as of Tuesday afternoon, it wasn’t determined whether they will still meet.

The Board of Freeholders were elected by city voters on Nov. 12 and given 90 days to submit proposed changes to the City Charter to the City Council, which would then decide whether to hold a special election to vote on the proposed changes.

Voters passed a ballot question last April to call for a Board of Freeholders election after a city council election in which ballot questions were proposed to move three elected positions — the City Clerk-Treasurer, the Street Commissioner and the Chief of Police — under department heads that would be hired and fired by the City Manager instead of elected. Altus has a hybrid mix of elected and appointed department heads, and a group of city council members said they were attempting to streamline what they were calling a Council-Manager form of government.

Voters voted down the changes, and three of four city council members up for reelection were voted out of office. Councilmember Doyle Jenks did not have an opponent in Ward 1.

The Board of Freeholders were attempting to resolve some of the natural conflicts between the three elected officials and the city manager. The group of eight Freeholders met from late November through mid-January. Early meetings were used to identify what caused conflicts between a former city manager and the elected officials. The board heard and voted on proposed language changes that they believed would help alleviate the issues.

The language agreed on would put the elected officials and the city manager on level playing fields. It would also require department heads who were not a part of a collective bargaining agreement to identify every position in their department, provide qualifications for that job and establish a salary range for each.

The language would create a budget committee that would include the city manager, the city’s chief financial officer, the city attorney and the three elected officials.

And it would also create an agenda committee that includes the city manager, the elected officials and the city attorney. The agenda committee would determine what issues to put on the city council’s monthly agenda. The city council meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. There was an issue on Tuesday’s agenda that would move the meetings back to 6 p.m., but The Altus Times went to press before that meeting.

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