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Panel debates residency rule for city employees

Members of a charter review committee continued arguments this week about whether the city government's guiding document should give the City Council power to set residency requirements for city employees.

The nine-member committee, appointed to represent each council ward and the city at large, was named earlier this month to review existing charter provisions, hear suggestions from residents and review the proposal that started it all: a residency proposal by Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner. While the committee's work is broadly defined, the only real discussion has centered on Tanner's proposal and the ramifications for the city.

A third committee meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, is intended to give more residents an opportunity to offer comments and hear discussion.

Tanner said last week his proposal is simple: he wants the charter to include a provision allowing the council, through its power to make ordinances, set residency requirements for some city employees. Now, the charter sets that requirement only for the city manager and city attorney, who must live in Lawton. Tanner said no other employee falls under that provision, even public safety leaders who are critical in emergencies. He also said he believes administrative level employees, those who make or influence policy, should have to live under those policies and also should be invested in their community by living here.

Tanner's proposal created a brief conflict this week, as charter review members were setting up for their meeting.

Some members said Tanner was to bring back his amended proposal (focusing on the public safety argument) for this week's meeting, while others said they believed Tanner was to bring back that discussion at the April 2 meeting set by committee Chair Angela Stone. Stone, who chaired last week's meeting, is unavailable for two weeks, but other committee members wanted to begin discussions so they can meet the June deadline that City Attorney Frank Jensen said must be met to give his staff time to research and draft the proposals that will be sent to the council for approval.

A council decision on any charter revision proposals will be sent to the Comanche County Election Board for inclusion on the November election ballot, and Jensen said the council must have its work done by Aug. 22 to meet a state-imposed ballot deadline.

Committee members, council members and citizens are split over the proposal. One resident opposes the review process in its entirety.

Carolyn Steinis said she doesn't believe the charter should be changed, and suggested the committee reject Tanner's proposal. She said she doesn't understand the problem and asked whether the city would actually turn down employment for a better qualified candidate because he or she didn't live in the city limits.

Steinis said if the issue is public safety, there are emergency personnel stationed in Lawton around the clock. And, she said she believes there are personal agendas and power control issues involved and said such a proposal  if enacted  would impede city operations.

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