City Charter Update
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.
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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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:
- Update charter via ordinance, after a public hearing (West Virginia Code §8-4-8)
- 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
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1211
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241