IN THE KNOW: City Charter needs updating
We certainly have heard a lot about the Charter lately haven't we? Tempers have flared and points of view have surfaced that some have thought "were ridiculous." Many of you have asked what is going on. Let me try to explain and help make sense of our City Charter.
What is the Charter? It is a broad governing document of our city originally approved by the city's voters in 1908. It is like a local "Constitution." It cannot however make rules and laws that differ from those of the state of Minnesota. Minnesota law almost always supersedes our Charter.
In addition to our Charter, the city has adopted a City Code and has passed many ordinances and resolutions and set various policies. The Charter combined with these other actions provides the framework for our city government.
Does our Charter need updating? Yes. Many parts are seriously outdated. So our Charter Commission has worked for the last three and a half years tirelessly getting amendments ready to present to the Council for their approval. It takes unanimous approval by the Council including a mayoral signature as an approving vote to pass the amendments. So, the Charter Commission has made sure to get the amendments and updates correct as many are hard to understand (even by our Council) and in need of an overhaul as the Charter was originally written in 1908, fully revised in 1959, amended in1976, then reviewed in 1990.
In the meantime, the state has made many mandates and we must follow them and we have tried to pass resolutions that would follow accordingly, which our legal counsel tells us is the proper way to do that. For example, the state of Minnesota mandates that we must file our state tax electronically and our Charter tells us we have to pay our bills by voucher. The voucher system of course no longer even exists so we obviously needed to change that. We need to pay our bills in a current updated method or be penalized.
As I said, the Charter Commission has met and three times has presented multiple amendments and changes they thoughtfully prepare for Council approval. There have been 26 amendments presented since December 2014 and 17 have passed. Of the nine failed amendments, there was one that all the Council did not like and the rest were all voted down by either one or two members of the Council (either Batesole or Kuhlman) who have consistently voted down all the proposals.
Is there another way that the Charter can be updated? Yes. It can go on a ballot for a vote by everyone. This would be very cumbersome, time consuming and expensive. The Charter Commission and the Council have chosen not to go this route. Even members of our Council have said they voted against an amendment because "they didn't understand it."
Putting large amendments on the ballot without proper education is simply not fair to voters. Voters elect their Council people to represent them and have them do their homework so they know and learn this information. It is important to note that citizens have the ability to require a vote on any Charter amendment voted upon unanimously by the City Council. State statute requires a referendum on any Charter amendment if a petition signed by 5 percent of registered voters is presented within 60 days of council adoption of the amendment.
At this point the Charter Commission has voted not to meet, except for the once per year as required by law. They are frustrated with the lack of results, lack of respect given by being consistently voted down on most of their work. We, as a Council, will continue to meet our legal obligation with our state statute.
So, for now, nothing changes, which is unfortunate. The city will continue to run just fine and quite legally. It would be nice to get our Charter updated into agreement with common sense practice and we will eventually get there.
My person this time is Vinnie Hennen, the manager of the Runestone Community Center. He has worked for the city of Alexandria for 19 years, starting as assistant manager and head of maintenance. Now as manager of the RCC, his duties consist of being part of a leadership team with other department heads. His specific duties at the RCC include budgets, scheduling, maintenance of equipment and building and working with our user groups consisting of Alexandria hockey association, Alexandria figure skating association, the curling association, the Alexandria high school, Blizzard hockey and doing many dry floor events.
His family moved to Alexandria in 1998. His wife of 42 years, Joan, works at Elden's. Vinnie proudly reports: We have three children. Our oldest son, Mat, who also works at the RCC, is married to Brianna. They have children. Wyatt, 6 and Ruby, 2; a daughter, Kayla (husband, Lee) owns a day care in Starbuck. They have a son, Jackson, almost 2; and our youngest son, Scott, works in Alexandria for WSN as a civil engineer.
There is always action at our RCC. Stop in and see Vinnie. He always has a smile and a warm hello for everyone!
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"In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.