Elkins Residents Object to Certain Charter Changes

Elkins, W. Va., November 6, 2020: The Elkins City Clerk is in receipt of objections to two proposed changes to the city charter. Unless these objections or any others received by the end of Monday’s 5 p.m. hearing are withdrawn by November 19, the objected-to sections cannot be adopted by ordinance and would either have to be abandoned or placed on the ballot of the March 2021 Municipal Election.

Council released a draft of a new city charter in October and commenced the process, prescribed in W.Va. Code § 8-4-8, for adopting the new charter by 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.

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. This is known as “at-large” election.

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.

Both objections that the city has received concern proposed changes to city leadership.

One objection is to the change to at-large election of council members. The objector prefers to retain the ward-based election method stipulated in the current charter.

Another objection concerns the adoption of the Manager-Mayor plan of government. The objector prefers to retain the current government structure, which is similar to what state code calls the Mayor-Council plan of government.

Alternatively, the objector proposes council consider adopting what state code calls the Strong Mayor form of government. If council decides to add new language to the proposed charter update, however, the adoption-via-ordinance process would restart and could no longer conclude in time to add any objected-to provisions to the March 2021 ballot.

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.”

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