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City charter review group begins its work

A citizens review committee took its first steps Friday toward crafting revisions to the city charter, directing a City Council member to rework the residency requirement proposal he made.

The process got off to a slow start: committee members got bogged down when they tried to set the procedure they would use to review proposals brought before them. Ultimately, they settled on a procedure, set the two next meetings and reviewed a proposal from Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner.

It was Tanner's proposal  allowing the council to use its authority to set ordinances to establish residency requirements for city staff members  that launched the charter review. Tanner originally made his residency proposal during the review process that led to the 2016 charter amendment election, but the full council didn't agree to send that proposal to voters.

Earlier this year, Tanner again made his residency requirement proposal and asked for a charter election on it. Council members expanded the proposal to hear any other revisions that might be suggested, using the citizens review committee process it has used in previous years. The committee's work is only recommendation. Once the committee finishes, recommendations will be forwarded to the council, which will decide which proposals will be set on an election ballot for city voters.

The charter may be amended only by a vote of the people.

Tanner said Friday he was ready to present his idea, which already has been reviewed by city attorneys. The proposal: the council, through its authority to establish ordinances, could set residency requirements for any city employee, with those requirements set proactively (meaning they would apply to new hires, not existing employees). And, those new hires would be given a reasonable amount of time to comply with the regulation.

Tanner said he wants the residency requirement to apply to department heads and the supervisors just under them, the upper level managers who set the policies for the city. He said he has two reasons for his proposal, including the argument that "95 percent" of the items on council agendas are initiated by city staff.

He said there also is the matter of public safety, explaining that in the event of things such as natural disasters, some supervisors need to be in the city to handle problems and that means a response time would apply.

Tanner, noting city charter now allows the council to set residency requirements only for the city manager and city attorney, said the issue has been heard before the Supreme Court, which has ruled that municipalities have the right to set residency requirements. He said constituents also like the idea.

"If our money is good enough for you, our city should be good enough for you," he said.

Committee member John Purcell said the council already has the power to adopt ordinances setting residency requirements for certain employees, but City Attorney Frank Jensen said that authority should originate in the charter, which Jensen called the framework for city government.

Tanner, in response to questions from committee members, said he intends the proposal to apply to management-level employees, those he called policy makers and pseudo-policymakers (those who heavily influence decisions by providing information).

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