Charter Change Survey Results

In support of council’s consideration of possible changes to the city’s charter, staff created and released an online survey on the Survey Monkey platform. The survey was promoted via the following channels:

  • Paid advertising in the Inter-Mountain
  • Multiple press releases, all of which were published in the Inter-Mountain and on the city website
  • Two TV news stories mentioning the survey’s availability
  • “Sidebar alert” with link to survey on every page of the city website
  • Multiple Facebook posts
  • Messages sent to the city’s email newsletter list
  • Direct email to various city stakeholders
  • Dissemination by Elkins Main Street and the Elkins-Randolph Chamber of Commerce email lists

The survey was available from August 14 through September 2. During that time, 115 people responded to the survey. The survey had 10 questions, which are summarized below (actual question wording on the survey was different than shown below; the questions are reprinted in full in the attached results). All questions were optional, meaning that respondents did not have to answer every question to submit their answers.

  1. Are you a resident/property owner/business owner, etc.?
  2. Name and address. (These answers are not included in the attached results.)
  3. Which charter-change background materials have you reviewed?
  4. Should the charter be changed?
  5. What aspects of the charter should be changed?
  6. If you oppose changing the charter, why?
  7. What form of government do you prefer for Elkins?
  8. Should council be resized?
  9. Should council be restructured?
  10. What else would you like to share about possible charter changes?

Here is an overview of some of the results:

  • There was strong support for “updating” the charter. Almost 69% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that “the Elkins City Charter should be updated” (question 4).
  • More than 80 percent of respondents want council to “update obsolete sections” of the charter (question 5). The next most popular category of changes was “restructure/resize council” (54 percent), followed by change the form of government (49 percent).
  • When asked what form of government they preferred for Elkins (question 7), 39 percent wanted to keep the current form, followed closely by the 35 percent who favored some form of manager-based government (i.e., either Manager or Manager-Mayor). Least popular was the idea of adopting a Strong Mayor Plan (26 percent).
  • Regarding changing the size of council (question 8), most respondents want to reduce it (50 percent). Those who wanted to keep it the same as it is now numbered 35 percent. Only 14 percent wanted a larger council.
  • When asked (question 9) about changing the structure of council (ward vs. at-large representation, ward vs. at-large voting, etc.), 39 percent favored the current strict ward-based qualification and election. The next largest group, at 19 percent, wanted to keep ward-based representation but adopt at-large (citywide) voting for all council seats. At 16 percent, those who want a mix of at-large and ward councilors came in third place.

It is important to keep in mind that these results cannot be described as representative of public opinion. Unlike a poll, respondents were not randomly selected, so they cannot be said to represent a cross-section of the community. This survey would not have been available, for example, to people lacking internet access. Also, despite the efforts made to publicize the survey, it is still possible that some potential respondents may not have heard about it.

The results may be downloaded in PDF form here.

If you prefer viewing the survey results online, you may do so by clicking here.

Contractor Replacing Downtown Flowers at No Cost to the City

Weather conditions contributed to widespread fungal infection

Elkins, W. Va., September 2, 2020: The city’s downtown flower display was afflicted with a fungal infection earlier this summer, and the contractor that manages the display will replant the affected baskets next week at no cost to the city.

“Earlier in the season, the plants in the downtown hanging baskets were doing really well, but the rainy weather we’ve been having recently seems to have led to a fungal outbreak among most of the baskets,” says Tammy Dolly, who manages the downtown display. “In response, we treated the affected baskets with a copper fungicide around August 12. We began to gain a little ground before the last run of rain, but that just sent them over the edge.”

Dolly reported the problem to city officials and offered to remove and compost the dead plants, then replace them with mums at her own expense. Council’s Municipal Properties Committee accepted this offer at its August 19 meeting, and replanting will proceed during the week of September 7.

“I take great pride in the flowers and look forward to caring for them each year, and I’m sincerely sorry this year’s display turned out this way,” says Dolly. “We’ve never had anything like this happen to any of our flowers anywhere, and I’m not sure what we could have done differently. We’re just happy to have a plan in place to move forward, and we will keep watering as long as we can this fall to keep the mums looking nice.”

 

City Hall News for August 29, 2020

Elkins, W. Va., August 29, 2020: On Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., council will host an in-person Charter Change Q&A event at the Phil Gainer Community Center. Council’s charter-change attorney will present a brief summary of his analysis of the current charter, which was last updated in 1901. Then council will take questions and comments from in-person attendees. To reduce chances of transmitting the COVID-19 virus, seats will be placed 6 feet apart, face coverings are required, and only 72 audience members will be admitted. See: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.

Elkins Tree Board meets Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden Garden, between city hall and the Darden House. The board will consider agenda items including setting tree planting and maintenance workdays and the possibility of an Adopt-a-Tree program.

At its 5:30 p.m. Thursday virtual meeting, council’s EGAD Committee will discuss next steps for annexation and the placement of electric vehicle charging stations in Elkins.

Council meets virtually in regular session Thursday at 7 p.m. The meeting will begin with a public hearing concerning the issuance of bonds to fund Phase II of the sewer/stormwater separation project. (See: www.bit.ly/Phase2Sewer)

Council’s regular meeting commences immediately following this hearing. The agenda is not yet complete but includes the third and final reading of the ordinance issuing the sewer bonds. Council will also receive the results of the online charter-change survey and continue its discussion of possible charter changes.

There will be written and physical civil-service testing for prospective firefighters September 12. More information, including test requirements, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCivilService

All council and committee meetings are open to the public. For virtual meeting login info, agendas, and information about submitting public comments, please see: www.cityofelkinswv.com/login.

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.

Charter Change: City Manager Costs and Tenure

During council’s ongoing consideration of possible updates and changes to the city charter, councilors requested information about the potential costs and likely tenure of a city manager in Elkins. Tim Stranko, the attorney retained by council to assist with the charter-change process, has prepared a memo answering these questions.

Mr. Stranko’s research finds that, in West Virginia cities employing city managers, the annual salary range is $75-130,000, with the average for a West Virginia city being $89,035.  According to a study by the American Society for Public Administration, “the average tenure of a city manager has been “lengthening over the decades” to 6.9 years.” Attached to his memo is a report from the International City/County Management Association that looks at the question of tenure of city managers in more detail.

Mr. Stranko also presents specific information from several West Virginia cities that employ city managers. Click here to access the memo.

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…)

The Charter Update Process

First 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. Because changes to a city’s charter can have profound effects on that city, it’s important that members of the public understand the process so they can provide informed input. Today through Friday, we’re running a series of blog posts 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.) (more…)

City Hall News for August 8, 2020

Elkins, W. Va., August 8, 2020: Meeting this week are council’s Public Safety Committee and Rules & Ordinances Committee, as well as the Elkins Tree Board.  Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Personnel Committee has been cancelled for lack of new business. (more…)

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