Packets for Altus Board of Freeholder election available now

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The Jackson County Election Board will provide packets of information for those who want to run for eight positions on an Altus Board of Freeholders that will be tasked with reviewing the Altus City Charter to determine whether changes need to be made on it.

Election Board Secretary Jennifer Wilson said packets should be available beginning today.

The City of Altus passed resolution number 2019-02 on June 4 to call for a Freeholder election on Nov. 12. The Board of Freeholders will consist of two representatives from each of the Altus City Council’s four wards. They must be elected by registered voters within their wards. If there are two or fewer candidates per ward, there will not be an election for that ward. City Council members and the mayor may not run for the Board of Freeholders while still holding office.

The Freeholders’ meetings will be open to the public.

To qualify as a candidate, you must be 25 years old, be a registered voter at an address in a specific ward for at least six months prior to filing a declaration of candidacy and have been a resident of the city for at least one year preceding the election date.

Potential candidates must file a declaration of candidacy between 8 a.m., Monday, Sept. 23, and Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m. at the election board office at 101 N. Main, Room 105, in Altus.

Voters who want to contest the candidacy of any candidae can file the contest between 8 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 26, and 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27.

In February, during an Altus municipal election, citizens voted against a proposition to revoke the current city charter by a narrow margin, (1,310-1,278 or 50.62 percent vs 49.38 percent). The current charter, adopted in 2013, created a City Council-City Manager form of government.

Had the charter been revoked, the city would have returned to an Aldermanic form of government where the mayor has more power and the ability to hire and fire department heads rather than the city manager. Under the current Council-City Manager form of government, the City Council can hire and fire a City Manager who hires and fires department heads. Under the current charter, the mayor represents one vote on the council and he or she represents the city in ceremonial duties.

Mayor Jack Smiley recently cast the deciding vote between a split council to accept the resignation of City Manager Janice Cain. A separation agreement between the City Council and Cain has not been made public although it was an agenda item under the category of “consent agenda” for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Items under the consent agenda are voted on together unless a council member asks that the item be pulled out and discussed and voted on separately. The Altus Times goes to press Monday afternoon for this Wednesday edition.

The ballot question on electing Freeholders to prepare and propose amendments to the City Charter was a follow up to tweak the City Charter to address concerns by Smiley and other proponents of revoking the Charter. The ballot question to elect Freeholders passed by a margin of 549 to 279, or 66 to 34 percent, on the April 2 election that was also a runoff for City Council.

Concerns over the current City Charter are that the current government mixes the Alermanic form of government with the Council-City Manager form by electing a police chief, a street commissioner and a city clerk-treasurer.

Following the February election when voters defeated the measure to revoke the charter, Smiley said returning to a pure Aldermanic form of government would have continued tension between council members. Changes he said he’d like to see in the Charter include changing whether the City Manager signs contracts. He said he would rather see the mayor or a majority of the council approve those contracts.

He also said he wants to do more to protect the three elected officials and make sure they keep their prescribed duties and run their departments so that employees are not torn between the elected official and city management.

In February, voters rejected ballot questions that would have moved those three elected positions from voter approval to regular department heads under the City Manager’s jurisdiction.

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