Elections

The elected offices in the City of Elkins are the mayor and council members. Elections are held on the first Tuesday of March in every odd year. For information on the 2019 election, click here.

Mayors
Mayors are elected to a two-year term. Mayors appear on the ballot in all five city wards at every election.

Council Members
Council members are elected to four-year terms. Two council members are elected from each of the city’s five wards, for a total of 10 council members. The two council members from each ward are elected to staggered terms, so that only one member from each ward faces election at each biannual election.

However, if a sitting council member has been appointed to that seat, rather than elected (e.g., to fill a vacancy caused by a resignation), that council member must appear on the ballot at the next election. As a result, it can sometimes happen that both council members from one ward can be on the ballot at the same time, one running for election to an “unexpired term” (i.e., to finish the term of the member who was appointed), and one running for reelection to a full term.

Voter Registration
Although the city runs its own elections, the city does not maintain any voter registration records. Please contact either the Randolph County Clerk or the West Virginia Secretary of State with questions about your registration.

Additional Information
In advance of each election, we will announce additional information concerning candidates, polling places, voting and absentee balloting rules, and other details.

Please contact the city clerk, the city’s chief elections officer, with any questions about Elkins elections.

Elkins City Clerk
Jessica R. Sutton
jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1211
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241

Draft Charter Update

The download links in this post have been updated to point to the latest version of the draft charter, released Monday, August 31. The linked document includes a change log to show major changes between the last version and this one.

Click here to download a draft of an updated charter for the City of Elkins, prepared by council’s charter attorney, Tim Stranko, based on council’s discussion at its August 20 meeting.

This version has not been proposed or endorsed by council.

The final draft of any charter update endorsed by council will differ from this one. Even if council members agree that they wish to endorse in principle the changes stipulated in this draft (and council has not yet reached consensus on any changes), at least some further editing would be necessary to eliminate any inconsistencies or other typos. Obviously, if council rejects or modifies any of these provisions or inserts new ones, the final version would differ even more significantly from this one.

The purpose of this draft is to provide a concrete reference point for ongoing deliberation about what might be included in a more formal draft. This draft is being released in hopes of providing a clearer picture of what a charter update might look like and to help the public conversation become even more specific about the changes city residents do and don’t support. For more information about the charter-change process, please visit: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

The table below shows the most significant changes included in this draft. This table may not be easily readable on a mobile device. It is also included in the PDF of the draft charter update, which may be downloaded here.

1901 CharterAttached Draft Charter
Stipulates a plan of government similar to what W. Va. state code now calls the Mayor-Council Plan (also known as “weak mayor/strong council”). Council and the mayor, as a collective group, are the city’s governing and administrative authority, with the mayor holding almost no independent authority.Does not adopt a new plan of government. Mayor is assigned some additional supervisory authority (see below).
Lists more than 80 “corporate powers and duties of council.”Replaces list with the provision that City of Elkins has “all the powers now or hereafter granted to municipal corporations and to cities of its class by the Constitution and general laws of the State.” (1.02)
City council has 10 members, two from each of the city’s 5 wards. Members are elected by the voters of the wards they represent.Council would still have 10 members. Five of these would represent (and be required to live in) each of the city’s five wards. The other five would be “at-large” members who could live anywhere in the city. Both Ward and At Large Councilors would face election by all city voters. (2.02)
City elections held in March of odd-numbered years.City elections would be held in June of odd-numbered years. (2.02)
Mayors serve two-year terms.Mayors would serve four-year terms. (3.01)
Clerk and treasurer are appointed to two-year terms. All other department heads (i.e., fire chief, operations manager, and police chief) are at-will employees.All five administrative officers would be at-will employees. (Clerk: 3.06; Treasurer: 3.07)
Clerk is acting mayor in mayor’s absence or during vacancy in mayor’s office.Council selects one of its own to preside at meetings in mayor’s absence or to serve as acting mayor during extended absence. In case of vacancy in mayor’s office, council appoints a new mayor to serve until the next election. (3.05)
Mayor is assigned supervisory authority over the police chief.Mayor is assigned supervisory authority over clerk and treasurer. (Clerk: 3.06; Treasurer: 3.07)
Contains no procedure for preparation and presentation to council of the annual budget.Codifies a budget process, including an annual budget message and a five-year capital plan. (4.04, 4.05) Budget is supervised by the Finance Committee. (2.09)
Doesn’t stipulate any standing council committees.Stipulates three:
• Finance
• Rules and Ordinances
• Economic Growth and Development

Council/the mayor may create more committees as needed.

Charter Change Q&A Tuesday, Sept. 1

Elkins Common Council will host an in-person Charter Change Q&A event at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1 at the Phil Gainer Center. Council’s charter-change attorney, Tim Stranko, will present the findings of his analysis of the current charter, which was last updated in 1901. Then council will take questions and comments from in-person attendees.

Stranko’s presentation at Tuesday’s Q&A will present three main categories of possible charter changes. The first category consists of updates to charter provisions that have been rendered obsolete by changes in state law and the evolution of the Elkins city government. These updates would simplify and modernize the charter without significantly affecting the form and functioning of the city government.

The second category in Stranko’s presentation will be possible changes to council size, elections, and representation. While Elkins uses strict ward-based representation and election processes, many other West Virginia cities have at least some “at-large” council members or have ward-based members face citywide election.

“At-large representation and citywide voting might increase voter turnout and enable a wider range of people to run for office,” says Sutton. “State code is not very specific about these aspects of city councils, so there are a few possible options.”

The third category includes possible changes to the structure of the city government. State law authorizes West Virginia cities to use one of five government structures, or plans. Under the current plan, council holds both governing and administrative authority and the mayor has almost no independent authority (i.e., what state code calls the Mayor-Council Plan). Other available plans assign administrative authority to either a mayor (i.e., Strong Mayor Plan) or a city manager (i.e., the Manager or Mayor-Manager plans).

“In the city’s strategic plan, council set a goal of evaluating the feasibility of adopting a city manager form of government,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “That evaluation is ongoing, so now is the time for the public to speak up if that is something they support or oppose.”

The Q&A session will follow the governor’s orders and public health guidelines for reducing the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus. Attendees must wear masks at all times inside the building and will be seated six feet apart from each other. A total of 72 members of the public will be admitted.

Due to technical obstacles, the Q&A will not be livestreamed. A written summary of questions and answers will be posted to the city’s website.

“We don’t currently have the tools to livestream an event with so many different potential speakers and ensure that viewers would be able to hear all questions and answers,” says Sutton. “If anyone isn’t comfortable attending an in-person event or has a schedule conflict, they can email ideas and concerns to me and, if time permits, I’ll present them to council and Mr. Stranko during the Q&A.”

Sutton pointed out that there are additional options for public input.

“Our online survey will be available through September 2 and people can also submit public comments for any upcoming council meetings,” she says. “Also, before council can finally adopt a charter by ordinance, state law requires a formal public hearing. Right now, the earliest that could happen would be sometime in October.”

Sutton emphasized the importance of public input during this process.

“Changing the city’s charter could profoundly affect Elkins for generations. It’s vital that councilors hear as much input as possible so they can draft a charter update that everyone can feel good about.”

For a link to the online survey and more charter-related information, including the text of the current charter, a charter-change FAQ, and other background resources, please visit: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

Restructure Council?

Last in a series of four articles about the charter change process

Last week, Elkins Common Council began public deliberations on possible changes to the city charter. This week, the City of Elkins is running a series of articles providing background and contextual information about the charter-change process. You can find more about this process, including an analysis of the current charter and charter change FAQs, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

How big should council be? How should council members be elected? How should representation be configured?

These are some of the other questions council is wrestling with as members deliberate toward possible changes to the Elkins City Charter, which has not been updated since 1901. (more…)

Change Our Government Structure?

Third in a series of four articles about the charter change process

Last week, Elkins Common Council began public deliberations on possible changes to the city charter. This week, the City of Elkins is running a series of articles providing background and contextual information about the charter-change process. You can find more about this process, including an analysis of the current charter and charter change FAQs, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

One of the most important questions facing council during this process is whether to alter the basic structure of the city government. State code allows West Virginia municipalities to be structured under five different plans. Each of these plans has advantages and disadvantages. (more…)

What is a Charter—and What Does Ours Say?

Second in a series of four articles about the charter-change process.

Last week, Elkins Common Council began public deliberations on possible changes to the city charter. This week, the City of Elkins is running a series of articles providing background and contextual information about the charter-change process. You can find more about this process, including an analysis of the current charter and charter change FAQs, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

The role of a city charter is similar to that of a nation’s constitution. The charter stipulates the structure, authority, and basic operating rules of a city government. A city’s charter also describes the terms, election/appointment process, and core responsibilities of city officials. (more…)

Elkins City Charter: Analysis and Recommendations


This web page lists opportunities for modernizing, strengthening, and otherwise improving the structure and functioning of the city government of Elkins, West Virginia.

Other resources concerning the charter update process are available by clicking here.

Although Elkins was originally incorporated in 1889, the current Elkins City Charter dates only to 1901. That year, when the city absorbed what had been the separate city of South Elkins, a revised charter was needed for the new, larger city. The city’s charter has not been amended since then.

The following sections present some of the most significant opportunities for improving the 1901 Elkins City Charter. Each section also lists possible means of addressing these opportunities. The listed options are are based on practices in wide use among West Virginia municipalities, especially municipalities that have updated their charters more recently than Elkins.

This document addresses the following opportunities for improvement:

Opportunities for Improvement

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Opportunity 1: Diffused Administrative Authority

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The 1901 charter implements what West Virginia Code calls the “Mayor-Council” plan of municipal government. Per state code, this means that—in Elkins—the mayor and the council are, together, the governing body and administrative authority. The mayor has almost no independent authority; all important decisions must be made by the council.

Challenges:

The Mayor-Council plan, also known as a “Weak Mayor/Strong Council” plan, presents the following challenges:

  • Administrative authority is held by 10 part-time council members.
  • There is no single individual with administrative authority (e.g., hiring/firing, direction of resources, adherence to long-term strategy, etc.) overseeing all city functions. Instead, five coequal administrative officers manage the operation of their departments and report to council.
  • Decisions requiring exercise of administrative authority are time consuming, requiring review by relevant council committees and ultimate approval by council.
  • Administrative decision making by elected officials may introduce political concerns.
  • Elected council members/mayors will not necessarily possess skills or training suitable for the administration of a city organization with approximately 85 employees, an annual General Fund budget of around $5.5 million, and water and sewer utilities with combined budgets of about $5 million.
  • Elected officials lack the assistance of professional support by an individual accountable for government-wide/citywide policy, goal setting, and outcomes.
  • Election turnover may result in policy inconsistencies, drastic changes to long-term plans and goals, and other unpredictability for residents and business owners.

Possible solutions:

In addition to the Mayor-Council plan described above (and which Elkins currently uses), state code allows four other “plans” or organizational structures for West Virginia municipalities:

  1. Strong Mayor Plan: The council is the governing body; the mayor is the administrative authority. The mayor has much more independent authority under this plan. (Examples: Buckhannon, Beckley.)
    1. Advantages: Unifies administrative authority in one individual, simplifying decision-making and other administrative actions.
    2. Disadvantages: Locating administrative authority in an elected official may introduce political concerns into decision making. City’s administrative authority would answer only to voters, not to council. Elections would not necessarily produce mayors with skills and training for administering a city the size of Elkins.
  2. Commission Government Plan: The city is run by a five-member commission, with each commissioner in charge of a separate aspect of city operations (e.g., a commissioner of public affairs, a commissioner of finance, a commissioner of public safety, etc.) The members of the commission appoint a mayor from among their ranks. (No West Virginia cities use this option.)
    1. Advantages: Elected officials get to focus on specific areas of the city government.
    2. Disadvantages: Dividing administrative authority over specific areas of city government among individuals may confuse chain of command and encourage competition and rivalry between those areas. Politics may be introduced into administrative decisions; elections will not necessarily produce commissioners with suitable skills and expertise.
  3. Manager Plan: The council is the governing body, and a manager appointed by the council is the administrative authority. Under this plan, councilors select one of themselves as mayor. All city employees report to the manager. (Examples: Clarksburg, Fairmont.)
    1. Advantages: Unifies administrative authority in one individual, simplifying decision-making and other administrative actions (e.g., hiring/firing, direction of resources, adherence to long-term strategy, etc.). Manager is hired based on merit and qualifications for city administration. Reduces intrusion of political concerns in administrative decision making. Council is able to concentrate on policy and strategy instead.
    2. Disadvantages: Centralizing administrative authority in one staff member reduces direct council oversight of some matters, a change from longstanding Elkins practice. In the short term, hiring a city manager represents a net increase in expenses, although many cities find that professional management makes them more cost-effective in the long run. A mayor that is appointed rather than elected directly may reduce residents’ sense of having strong representation.
  4. Manager-Mayor Plan: This plan is identical to the “Manager Plan” (above), except that the mayor is elected by the public into that office specifically, not appointed from among council members. (Examples: Bridgeport; Lewisburg.)
    1. Advantages: Similar to “Manager Plan,” above. A directly elected mayor may contribute to residents’ feeling they have access to/accountability for an official with significant influence and authority.
    2. Disadvantages: Similar to “Manager Plan,” above.

Additional information:

West Virginia has 234 municipalities. Elkins is the twentieth largest, based on population. Out of the 30 largest West Virginia municipalities, here is the distribution of the various plans of government structure described above:

  • Manager/Manager-Mayor: 16
  • Strong Mayor: 6
  • Mayor-Council (like Elkins): 8

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Opportunity 2: Council Representation Only at Ward Level

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Under the 1901 Elkins City Charter, the “governing body” of Elkins is a ten-person council, with two councilors elected from each of the city’s five wards. To represent a certain ward, a candidate must live in that ward. Only people who also live in that ward may vote for that candidate.

Elkins is one of the only West Virginia cities that uses such a strict form of ward-based representation. Other approaches in use in West Virginia include:

  1. At large: Councilors may live anywhere in the city and are voted for by all city voters.
  2. At large/ward: Councilors must live in a certain ward but are voted for by all city voters.

Some cities use option 1 or 2 exclusively in electing councilors. Other cities use a combination of options 1 or 2.

Challenges:

The Elkins council’s current structure and ward-based election practices present the following challenges:

  • A 10-person group, by its sheer size, may present obstacles to reaching consensus.
  • Ward-based election may prevent highly qualified people from serving on council (e.g., when they don’t wish to unseat one of their current ward representatives but still feel motivated to serve).
  • Election by ward may influence some members away from a citywide perspective and toward focusing only on the concerns of their own wards.

Possible Solutions

  1. Reduce the overall number of council members.
    1. Advantages: Streamlines deliberation process and enables faster consensus. Reduced payroll costs. (Council members are currently paid $600/month. In lieu of payment, councilors have the option to receive PEIA health insurance coverage.)
    2. Disadvantages: City residents may feel less represented. Reduced number of councilors will increase workloads of remaining members, including receiving and addressing all constituent concerns from their wards. If current number of committees is also maintained, members would have to sit on more committees/attend more meetings/do more committee work.
  2. Shift to at-large-only representation. (All council members would be nominated/elected citywide.)
    1. Advantages: Excludes no potential candidates simply because of place of residence. Expanded field may result in more vigorous campaigns. Councilors would have no reason to feel limited to one ward’s issues and concerns. Citywide election of all council candidates might result in a more engaged citizenry.
    2. Disadvantages: Might result in one or more wards having no residents seated on council. (This concern could be addressed by requiring nomination by ward but still allowing citywide election.) Facing citywide election would result in increased workload for each councilor, e.g., citywide work and campaigning by members.
  3. Shift to some mix of ward and at-large representation. One option might be to stipulate 1 member nominated/elected in each ward (similar to current approach), with 1-5 members elected at-large.
    1. Advantages: Enables wider pool of candidates than strict ward-based representation (depending on number of at-large members allowed). If less than 5 at-large members are allowed, council’s payroll costs would be reduced. At-large councilors would have no reason to feel limited to one ward’s issues and concerns. Citywide election of some council candidates might result in a more engaged citizenry.
    2. Disadvantages: Might save less money than simply cutting the number of councilors but keeping the current ward-based nomination/election. City residents may feel less directly represented if no at-large councilor is elected from their ward and that other wards are unfairly over-represented.

Additional Information

Elkins, with its 10-person council, has a population of about 7,000. Below is a list of council structures used by cities with comparable population levels:

  • Bridgeport:
    • Population: 8,149
    • Council: 5 at-large members
  • Charles Town:
    • Population: 5,259
    • Council: 8 at-large/ward members (nominated by ward, elected citywide)
  • Hurricane:
    • Population: 6,284
    • Council: 5 at-large members

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Opportunity 3: Codify Financial Best Practices

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Budgeting and administering adopted budgets are two of the most central responsibilities of a city government. Unfortunately, the 1901 Elkins City Charter provides almost no framework for these vital processes. What little it has to say about financial matters is no longer relevant to the city’s current structure and to its required functioning under state code.

Challenges

  • An uncodified budget process could be changed from year to year, reducing predictability and complicating transparency for and participation by the public.
  • Without explicit budget procedures in the charter, it might be more difficult for council to hold administrative officers accountable for misappropriations or other financial misfeasance.
  • Without a clear delineation of responsibility for goals/strategy vs. technical budgetary decision making, council members lacking administrative knowledge and/or driven by political concerns may reduce the effectiveness of budget planning.

Possible Solutions 

Many West Virginia cities codify the following financial practices in their charters:

  • Publication of an annual “budget message” by the Finance Committee
  • Preparation of the annual budget by the city manager (to be approved by council)
  • Preparation of a five-year capital program by the city manager (to be approved by council)

Following are some advantages and disadvantages of these possible solutions.

  1. Advantages: These provisions contribute to stronger transparency and continuity by requiring a predictable process each year. The manager can ensure that departmental budgets comply with council’s five-year strategic plan, and performance during budgeting can be taken into account during the evaluation process for administrative officers. Oversight of a five-year capital program by a manager enables translation of strategic policy goals into technical budget components by a trained professional.
  2. Disadvantages: It is important that any financial practices codified in a city charter not be so restrictive and detailed that future administrations will have difficulty following them.

 

 

 

FAQs: City Charter Update Process


This page presents answers to frequently asked questions about city charters generally, the Elkins City Charter, and possible changes thereto.

Other resources concerning the charter update process are available by clicking here.

Use the following links to jump to questions in the indicated category, or just scroll down.

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Background

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What’s a city charter?

A city charter is the establishing document of a municipality. A charter is comparable to a constitution, in that it establishes the structure, authority, and basic operating rules of a city government. A city’s charter also stipulates the terms, election/appointment process, and core responsibilities of elected and appointed officials. A charter is distinct from a city’s code of laws; laws are adopted separately, following the procedures laid out in the charter and/or state code.

What are the essential components of a city charter?

One of the most important things established by a city’s charter is the form of that city’s government and what categories of officials make up that government. Charters may also describe a city’s boundaries (and those of its wards or other political subdivisions), establish election dates, impose any additional requirements (beyond those in state code) for the passage of certain kinds of ordinances, describe procedures for removing elected officials from office, and other similar structural or procedural matters.

What does “administrative authority” mean?

In every city government, some person or group of persons must hold “administrative authority” over the city government. A city’s “administrative authority” is responsible for day-to-day administration (e.g., hiring/firing, directing and supervising staff, ensuring adherence to rules and regulations, complying with internal policies, etc.). In some cities, the administrative authority may be held by the mayor or by a city manager. In Elkins, council and the mayor are, collectively, the administrative authority. No single individual in the Elkins government holds administrative authority over the city.

What does “governing body” mean?

The main purpose of a city government is, of course, to govern its city: that is, to pass laws, establish long-term goals, set policies, design strategy, and so forth. In West Virginia cities, this governing authority is required by state code to rest with a group of elected officials. In practice, this is always a group known as a council, although state code also authorizes a plan of government organization in which this authority is held by a group known as a city commission. (No West Virginia city currently uses the Commission Plan of government organization.) These councils or commissions are referred to in state code as each city’s “governing body.”

How may city governments be structured, according to state code?

West Virginia code authorizes five “plans” of organization for municipal governments.

    1. Mayor-Council Plan: The mayor and the council are, together, the governing body and administrative authority. The mayor has almost no independent authority; all important decisions must be made by the council. (This is the current structure of the Elkins city government.)
    2. Strong Mayor Plan: The council is the governing body; the mayor is the administrative authority. The mayor has much more independent authority under this plan. (Example: Buckhannon, Charleston.)
    3. Commission Government Plan: The city is run by a five-member commission, with each commissioner in charge of a separate aspect of city operations (e.g., a commissioner of public affairs, a commissioner of finance, a commissioner of public safety, etc.) The members of the commission appoint a mayor from among their ranks. (Not currently used by any West Virginia city.)
    4. Manager Plan: The council is the governing body, and a manager appointed by the council is the administrative authority. Under this plan, councilors select one of their number as mayor. All city employees report to the manager.
    5. Manager-Mayor Plan: This plan is identical to the “Manager Plan” (above), except that the mayor is elected by the public into that office specifically, not appointed from among council members.

How common are these different plans of government in West Virginia?

Elkins is the 20th largest West Virginia city, by population. The following list compares Elkin’s plan of government with those of the 30 most populous West Virginia cities.

    1. Manager/Manager-Mayor: 16
    2. Strong Mayor: 6
    3. Mayor-Council (like Elkins): 8
    4. Commission: 0

What are the pros and cons of the Mayor-Council Plan?

The Mayor-Council Plan is the plan currently in use in Elkins.

    • Advantages: The governing body and the administrative authority are all elected and thus directly accountable to voters. The requirement that a majority of council agree on all important actions reduces the likelihood of hasty decisions and may help prevent undue influence by one individual.
    • Disadvantages: There is no individual with authority over/accountability for citywide government and the accomplishment of citywide goals set by council. Administrative decisions by elected officials risks introducing political considerations. Elections will not necessarily produce individuals with skills and training for the administration of a city organization with approximately 85 employees, an annual General Fund budget of around $5.5 million, and water and sewer utilities with combined budgets of about $5 million.

What are the pros and cons of the Strong Mayor Plan?

    • Advantages: Unifies administrative authority in one individual, simplifying decision-making and other administrative actions.
    • Disadvantages: Locating administrative authority in an elected official introduces political concerns into decision making. City’s administrative authority would answer only to voters, not to council. Elections would not necessarily produce mayors with skills and training for administering a city like Elkins.

What are the pros and cons of the Commission Government Plan?

    • Advantages: Elected officials focus on and may gain expertise in specific functions of the city government.
    • Disadvantages: Dividing administrative authority over specific areas of city government among individuals may confuse the chain of command and encourage competition and rivalry between those areas. Politics is introduced into all administrative decisions; elections will not necessarily produce commissioners with suitable skills and expertise.

What are the pros and cons of the Manager Plan?

    • Advantages: Unifies administrative authority in one individual, simplifying decision-making and other administrative actions (e.g., hiring/firing, direction of resources, adherence to long-term strategy, etc.). Manager is hired based on merit and qualifications for city administration. Reduces intrusion of political concerns in administrative decision making. Council is able to concentrate on policy and strategy.
    • Disadvantages: Centralizing administrative authority in one staff member reduces direct council oversight of some matters, a change from longstanding Elkins practice. In the short term, hiring a city manager represents a net increase in expenses, although many cities find that professional management makes them more cost-effective in the long run. A mayor that is appointed rather than elected directly may reduce residents’ sense of having strong representation.

What are the pros and cons of the Manager-Mayor Plan?

    • Advantages: Similar to “Manager Plan,” above. A directly elected mayor may contribute to residents’ feeling of being well represented by giving them access to an official with significant influence and authority and who feels accountable to them.
    • Disadvantages: Similar to “Manager Plan,” above.

How are council members elected in West Virginia cities?

State code is relatively unspecific about how councils are structured and how council members are qualified and elected, leaving cities some latitude. In organizing a council and elections therefor, the following questions must be considered:

    • Who will each council member represent? That is, the whole city, or parts of the city (e.g., wards)?
    • Who may vote for each council member?

The following structures and processes for qualifying and electing city councilors currently exist in West Virginia:

    • Ward-based representation and election: To represent a certain ward, a candidate must live in that ward. Only people who also live in that ward may vote for that candidate. (Elkins is one of the only West Virginia cities that uses this system).
    • At large representation and election: Councilors may live anywhere in the city and are voted for by all city voters.
    • At large election/ward representation: Councilors must live in a certain ward but are voted for by all city voters.

Some cities pick one of the above structures and use only that one. Other cities use a mix of the above structures. Again, state code imposes no restrictions against using any of the above options or a mixture thereof.

Why does it matter when an election is held?

Election dates can influence campaigning and voter turnout and may also affect costs.

If an election date falls during the winter or early spring, cold weather may complicate campaigning and reduce voter turnout, especially by elderly or disabled persons.

When city elections are held on a different date from county-run elections (e.g., primaries and the general election), they must be administered by the city government. Costsavings might result from moving a city’s election date to match the state primaries or general election, because then the election can be administered by the county clerk, avoiding duplication of effort.

However, shifting city election dates to match state and national elections may introduce partisan politics into non-partisan city elections and increase votes cast by low-information voters. Also, in cities with ward-based representation and/or election, election administration would be complicated by the fact that all other races on the state and national ticket are organized by county districts, which are different from wards.

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Elkins

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Why is Elkins council considering changing our city charter?

The current charter was adopted in 1901 when Elkins absorbed South Elkins and contains many out-of-date provisions. Council also wants to evaluate if Elkins might benefit from changing the organizational structure of the city government (e.g., by shifting from the Mayor-Council Plan to one of the allowed city-manager-based forms of government).

Who is the governing body in Elkins? Who holds administrative authority?

The Elkins mayor and 10-person council are, collectively, the city’s governing body and administrative authority. Elkins mayors have almost no independent authority; all important decisions must be made by a majority vote of council. Elkins mayors chair but may not vote in council meetings, unless it is to break a tie.

What are some the important elements in the current Elkins City Charter?

The Elkins City Charter contains the following major provisions:

    • Elkins uses the Mayor-Council Plan of government organization (the mayor and council hold governing and administrative authority, collectively)
    • The mayor presides over council meetings but has no vote except to break a tie
    • City elections are the first Tuesday of March in every odd-numbered year
    • Mayors serve two-year terms
    • Councilors serve four-year terms
    • Two councilors are elected from each of the city’s five wards, to staggered terms
    • The following officers may be appointed by council: “a chief of police, city attorney, superintendent of streets, commissioner of waterworks, city assessor, city collector and treasurer, and city clerk.”
    • City and ward boundaries

What are some examples of out-of-date provisions in the 1901 charter?

    • Because West Virginia mayors used to play a judicial role now provided by magistrate court, there is extensive language in the 1901 charter about the rules of procedure for Elkins mayor in authorizing arrests, ordering imprisonment, and levying fines—none of which a West Virginia mayor now has authority to do.
    • The 1901 charter makes the city clerk a “conservator of the peace,” a role similar to that of a deputy sheriff but which, today, may only be filled by sheriffs with the consent of a judge.
    • The 1901 charter provides a long list (84 items) of specific authorities of council. Although this is a long list, it is not possible to imagine every kind of decision or authority a city council might need to exercise in the future. To simplify matters, most modern charters simply state that councils “shall provide for the exercise and performance of all rights, duties and obligations allowed or imposed on the City by law,” or words to that effect.
    • There are extensive provisions in the 1901 charter concerning the duties and authorities of the office of city assessor, a position rendered obsolete by changes in state law since 1901. Instead of a “commissioner of waterworks” and a “superintendent of streets,” the duties of these positions have been folded into the relatively recently created position of operations manager, which is not mentioned in the charter.
    • The charter calls for the city clerk to perform and maintain records of many financial processes which are now customarily assigned to city treasurers or finance directors.

How are council members elected in Elkins?

Two council members are elected from each of the city’s five wards. Each ward’s representatives are elected only by voters who live in their respective wards.

Council members serve four-year terms.

How much are Elkins council members paid?

Elkins council members are paid $600 per month. In lieu of this salary, they may instead receive coverage under the same PEIA health insurance plan offered to city employees. If they elect to receive health insurance coverage, they receive no pay.

How are mayors elected in Elkins?

Elkins mayors may live anywhere in the city and are elected by voters living anywhere in the city. Mayors serve two-year terms.

How much are Elkins mayors paid?

Elkins mayors are paid $20,000 a year.

What would change if Elkins adopted a city-manager-based form of government?

Elkins currently uses the Mayor-Council Plan of government. Under this plan, the council and mayor hold governing and administrative authority, collectively. The mayor has almost no independent authority, and all important decisions fall to or must be delegated by a majority vote of council. Out of the 30 most populous West Virginia cities (Elkins being twentieth), only 8 use this plan of government.

Among those 30 cities, 16 use one of the two city-manager-based plans authorized by West Virginia code. Both the Manager Plan and the Manager-Mayor Plan centralize administrative authority in a city manager appointed by council, which can then hold the manager accountable. This simplifies administrative decision making and allows council to concentrate on setting policies and goals. The only real difference between these two plans lies in how mayors are selected. Under the Manager Plan, councilors pick one of themselves to serve as mayor; under the Manager-Mayor Plan, mayors are elected directly to office by the voters.

One of the major changes that would result from Elkins adopting a manager-based form of government has to do with the city’s five administrative officers. Right now, there is no single individual with administrative authority (e.g., hiring/firing, direction of resources, adherence to long-term strategy, etc.) overseeing all city functions. Instead, five coequal administrative officers (i.e., the city clerk, city treasurer, fire chief, operations manager, and police chief) manage the operation of their departments and report to council. In a manager form of government, all of these officers would report to the manager and would all become at-will employees. (The city clerk and city treasurer are not currently at-will employees, as they are appointed to two-year terms.)

Why is council considering lengthening the mayor’s term from two to four years?

With two-year terms, mayors have barely settled into and learned their role before they must face the voters again. Some mayors have found that this distracts from the discharge of their duties; it can also lead to fast turnover, which may, in turn, be needlessly disruptive.

Why is Elkins considering changing the time of the election?

It has been mentioned from time to time that Elkins might benefit from moving the date of city elections (currently the first Tuesday in March of odd-numbered years) later in the year, such as to June. The main reason this change has been suggested in the past is to reduce weather-related obstacles to campaigning and voter turnout.

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City Manager

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What is a city manager?

City managers help bridge the gap between politics and administration. The mayor and council set policy for the community and pass legislation, while the city manager provides the administrative skills to make those laws and policies a reality.

In West Virginia, city managers serve as the chief administrative authority of the city government, comparable in many respects to a CEO at a private company. City managers oversee all city staff through a chain of command and ensure that council’s laws, policies, and goals remain at the forefront of day-to-day decisions and operations. Typical duties of a city manager include:

    • Overseeing the preparation and administration of the annual city budget
    • Making hiring and termination decisions about department heads
    • Managing and coordinating the daily operation of city departments and services
    • Making recommendations to the mayor and council on a variety of issues, including budgets, personnel needs, and prospective projects and their costs
    • Ensuring completion of reports and studies requested by elected officials
    • Collaborating with local stakeholders on community/economic development initiatives
    • Responding to resident questions and concerns

What would a city manager cost?

City manager salaries vary a great deal by location and in consideration of the background and training level of each candidate. According to ZipRecruiter, the national median salary for city managers is $93,373. The West Virginia median salary for city managers is $89,035.

Will hiring a city manager save money for city taxpayers?

In the short term, hiring a city manager will not save money for Elkins taxpayers. One of the most obvious costsaving measures that might accompany the creation of a city manager position would be a reduction in the size of council. However, as council members only make $7,200 a year, it would not be possible to reduce the size of council enough to completely cover the cost of a city manager.

The benefit derived from city managers is more typically realized in the long term. Over time, a trained professional accountable for citywide budget management, policy and strategy execution, and related areas of responsibility will likely be able to increase efficiencies, reduce duplication of effort, improve cooperation, sustain long-term goals and otherwise find areas for savings and increased value.

Who holds a city manager accountable since it is not an elected position? How is balance of power maintained?

City managers are hired by council. Sometimes they are hired as at-will employees, meaning council can terminate their employment at any time for any reason; other times they are hired on contracts, with renewals (or non-renewals) also falling to council. (Whether on contract or not, any public employee can be removed for misfeasance and/or criminal activity.)

Currently, the city is administered by five coequal administrative officers who report directly to council. Some of these are at-will employees; some are on contracts. Under a city manager structure, all of these officers would report to and be held accountable by the manager.

Elkins Council Considering Charter Changes Thursday

Elkins, W. Va., August 3, 2020: Elkins Common Council will hear a presentation from its charter-change consultant at Thursday’s 7 p.m. meeting. The presentation will include analysis of and recommendations for improving the city charter. Immediately following, council will begin public deliberations concerning what charter changes to pursue. Following Thursday’s meeting, subsequent planned steps in the charter review process include opportunities for questions and input from the public, a formal public hearing, and at least two additional public council meetings. (more…)

City Charter Update

Join council for an in-person Charter Change Q&A on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 5:30 p.m.

The City of Elkins 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, adopted by Elkins Common Council in the fall of 2018, called for investigating the feasibility of shifting the City of Elkins to a city manager style of government and otherwise updating the charter to improve the structure and functioning of city government. This process began during 2019 and is currently on track for its scheduled completion in 2020.

The following additional resources are located elsewhere on this website:

We have also published the following four articles providing background and context for the charter change:

  1. The Charter Update Process
  2. What is a Charter—and What Does Ours Say?
  3. Change Our Government Structure?
  4. Restructure Council?

After reviewing the background materials above, please consider taking our survey. Council really wants to hear as much from the public as possible about this important subject. Access the survey by clicking here.

Background

A city charter is the establishing document of a municipality. It is roughly comparable to a constitution, in that it is primarily concerned with the structure, authority, and basic operating rules of a city government. City laws are then adopted under the authority granted in the charter and following the processes it lays out. A city’s charter also stipulates important rules concerning elected and appointed officials, including their terms of office, their election/appointment requirements and processes, and their specific responsibilities and authorities.

One of the most important things established by a city’s charter is the form of that city’s government. All city governments are not structured alike. Under state code, West Virginia city governments may be structured under one of the following five plans:

  1. Mayor-Council Plan: The mayor and the council are, together, the governing body and administrative authority. The mayor has almost no independent authority; all important decisions must be made by the council. (This is the current structure of the Elkins city government.)
  2. Strong Mayor Plan: The council is the governing body; the mayor is the administrative authority. The mayor has much more independent authority under this plan. (Examples: Buckhannon, Beckley.)
  3. Commission Government Plan: The city is run by a five-member commission, with each commissioner in charge of a separate aspect of city operations (e.g., a commissioner of public affairs, a commissioner of finance, a commissioner of public safety, etc.) The members of the commission appoint a mayor from among their ranks.
  4. Manager Plan: The council is the governing body, and a manager appointed by the council is the administrative authority. Under this plan, councilors select one of their number as mayor. All city employees report to the manager. (Examples: Clarksburg, Fairmont.)
  5. Manager-Mayor Plan: This plan is identical to the “Manager Plan” (above), except that the mayor is elected by the public into that office specifically, not appointed from among council members. (Examples: Bridgeport; Lewisburg.)

Under West Virginia state code, cities may update their charter using one of the following two methods:

  1. Update charter via ordinance, after a public hearing (West Virginia Code §8-4-8)
  2. Update charter via election (West Virginia Code §8-4-7)

Current Elkins Charter

Although Elkins was originally incorporated in 1889, the current Elkins City Charter dates only to 1901. That year, when the city absorbed what had been the separate city of South Elkins, a revised charter was needed for the new, larger city. The city’s charter has not been amended since that year.

Like other city charters, the Elkins City Charter describes the boundaries of the city; the city’s wards; the various powers of council, the mayor, and other city officers; and other essential details about the city government’s structure and functioning. Here is a summary of some important stipulations of our charter:

  • The government of the City of Elkins is structured under the Mayor-Council Plan. As described above, this means that the charter grants the Elkins mayor almost no administrative authority.
  • The mayor is the presiding officer at council meetings but may cast a vote only to break a tie.
  • Elections are held every odd-numbered year on the first Tuesday in March.
  • There are ten council members, two from each of the city’s five wards. Council members serve four-year terms.
  • Mayors serve two-year terms.
  • The only chartered appointive officers are “a chief of police, city attorney, superintendent of streets, commissioner of waterworks, city assessor, city collector and treasurer, and city clerk.”

Because our charter has not been updated since 1901, it includes many out-of-date provisions. For example, the charter’s original wording required elected officials to own real estate in the city to qualify for office. This and certain other provisions have been found unconstitutional in the years since 1901. Other provisions refer to obsolete positions and otherwise no longer accurately reflect the current structure of the city government, not to mention state laws governing the relationship between West Virginia cities and the state government.

The charter update process is an opportunity to eliminate out-of-date provisions and consider whether structural changes to city government might benefit the city as a whole.

Planned Update Process

Presentation and Research Phase

This phase will consist of informational presentations to council concerning the city’s own charter, how cities may be structured under West Virginia code, and how the city’s charter compares with the charters of similar West Virginia cities. These presentations will be made by a contracted consultant.

Public Debate and Deliberation Phase

After the presentation and research phase has been completed, the consultant will present findings at a regular meeting of council. This presentation will describe opportunities for improvement and suggest charter changes that could be made to strengthen the structure and functioning of the city government.

Endorsement of Proposed Changes

After council members reach an initial consensus concerning potential changes they would like to make to update the city’s charter, they will endorse a proposed draft of the charter incorporating those changes. (In this context, “endorsement” is an unofficial step signifying only that the presented draft is one that council can support. Formal steps toward adopting this draft come later in the process.)

Public Input Concerning Proposed Changes

Once council has endorsed a draft charter update, city staff will publicize the proposed changes and seek public input, including through surveys, solicitation of written comments, Q&A sessions with council and the consultant, and a public information campaign.

If council elects to make changes to the city’s charter via ordinance, a public hearing is required under state code, providing the public with a final opportunity for input.

The ordinance implementing the new charter would then be voted on at two separate council meetings.

If you have questions or concerns about this process, please contact the city clerk.

Elkins City Clerk
Jessica R. Sutton
jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1211
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241

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