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.

“A city charter is the foundational document of a municipality,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “It lays out the structure, authorities, and basic operating rules of a city’s government. Here in Elkins, our charter hasn’t been updated since 1901, so it was time to take a look at what may need adapted to the times.”

Council set goals of updating the charter and evaluating the feasibility of adopting a city-manager form of government in its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. Members began working toward these goals in committee meetings during the summer of 2019. In December of that year, council hired Tim Stranko, an attorney specializing in municipal law who has assisted other cities with charter changes, to make informational presentations to council about allowed forms of government for West Virginia cities; council structures in use at other cities; and municipal best practices that might be considered for inclusion in an updated charter.

“Mr. Stranko wrapped up his presentations in June, and now council is going to start actively discussing and deliberating about what changes it can support making to the charter,” says Sutton.

One planned topic for discussion is the possibility of shifting to a city-manager-based form of government. State code authorizes five “plans” of municipal government. Elkins currently uses the Mayor-Council Plan, in which both governing and administrative authority are held, collectively, by the mayor and the council.

“Under the Mayor-Council Plan, mayors have almost no authority and all important decisions—both policy and administrative—ultimately fall to council,” says Sutton. “Council wants to consider whether shifting administrative authority to a manager might enable members to focus on policy, strategy, and goalsetting and leave day-to-day management decisions to someone with training and experience in city administration.”

Council will also discuss the possibility of making changes to council structure and election processes, extending the mayor’s term from two to four years, changing the date of elections, and including financial processes in the charter.

“This process is certainly not going to end on Thursday,” says Sutton. “Council discussions concerning the charter will continue at as many meetings as necessary until there is consensus on changes members feel they can publicly endorse.”

Once a draft charter has been endorsed, the subsequent steps will be a public Q&A session with Mr. Stranko and council, a public hearing, and two readings of an ordinance adopting the new charter.

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

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