Elkins Council to Hold Charter Hearing
Elkins, W. Va., October 31, 2020: City officials are hoping for robust participation at a public hearing concerning Elkins Common Council’s proposed new city charter at 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9. Council released its draft charter on Oct. 10, when it commenced the process laid out in W.Va. Code § 8-4-8 for amending a city charter via ordinance.
On the current timetable, charter changes could be finalized at council’s meeting of November 19, but none of the changes would go into effect until April 1, 2021 at the earliest.
“We’re looking forward to hearing constructive feedback at the hearing,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “It’s important that people take a look at the proposed draft, give it careful thought, and contact council to let them know how they feel—whether they support or oppose the proposed changes.”
Significant changes proposed in the draft charter include adoption of what West Virginia state code calls the Manager-Mayor plan of government, extending the mayor’s term from two to four years, and shifting city elections from March to June (starting with the 2023 election).
The update would not change either the number of or the required qualifications for council members but would allow voters to cast a ballot for every ward’s representatives, not just their own.
Other changes modernize the language and structure of the charter document to better reflect the evolution of state code and the Elkins city government since 1901, when the current charter was adopted.
Until the adjournment of the Nov. 9 hearing, Elkins residents and “freeholders” may enter objections to specific sections of the draft charter, either in writing to the city clerk or in spoken comments at the hearing. (Per state code, freeholders are “persons having a freehold interest in real property” inside city limits.) Unless objections are withdrawn within ten days following the hearing, the sections that were objected to cannot be adopted through the ordinance process.
“To be qualified under this process, objections need to be specific and addressable,” Sutton says. “For example, if someone wanted to retain the current plan of government instead of adopting the mayor-manager plan as proposed, that would be a qualified objection. Simply objecting to changing the charter at all would not be.”
When the current process concludes on Nov. 19, council will have the option and the time to place objected-to sections on the ballot of the March 2, 2021 city election if it chooses to do so. Sections not adopted by ordinance or placed on the March ballot will be considered abandoned.
“Again, we’re looking for constructive feedback,” says Sutton. “Our charter has not been updated in more than 100 years, and so much has changed since those early days of the city. The current charter is in need of updates to provide clarity and accountability to the organization. I hope everyone who comes out to comment does so in the spirit of trying to develop a document that will work well for Elkins in the twenty-first century.”