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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

Charter commission says public input is lacking

Thursday, September 13, 2001

SIKESTON - Members of the Home Rule Charter Commission believe themselves to be on schedule for a completed city charter to present to voters in time for the April 2002 election.

"It's going pretty well," said Scott Matthews. "I think the citizens will be proud of our product."

Larry Tetley said the process seemed to be running too slowly early on, but has since "picked up" to put them back on track.

"It's taking a lot more time than I thought it would," said Philip Boyer. "We're getting into a lot of details I didn't think we would - and I think that's good. We have a good group that's really discussing all the issues."

"The disagreements have been relatively minor," said Matthews. "It's been fairly non-contentious so far."

Jim Schwaninger said the commission should aim to have the first draft completed by the end of October so the public can review their work and the feedback used to "fine-tune" the charter for the vote.

Many of the commissioners have expressed some disappointment and frustration that the public hasn't provided more input during the process so far. "There's been almost zero public participation," said Boyer.

"Most of the interest that has been expressed to me has been on the process rather than the content," said Schwaninger, who said he believes the public to be both "interested and sympathetic" to the process the commission must go through and a lot more supportive of the commission than it may appear.

Schwaninger predicted more feedback from the community as the charter comes closer to being voted on. "There will be substantial community interest because we're setting the tone for city government for decades to come," said Schwaninger.

"Most people are going to want to look at the finished product," said Steve Sikes, vice chairman for the commission.

Harry Sharp, commission chairman, said the feedback he has received so far indicates the public still doesn't know much about the home rule charter. "Despite pretty good news coverage, they're not getting the message," said Sharp. What feedback he has received, however, indicated "a fairly positive attitude toward what we're trying to accomplish."

Whether through phone calls, email, or letters, "the more public input the better," said Scott Jenkins.

Jenkins reported a wide range of feedback from residents. "A lot of people think our third-class city is working just fine," said Jenkins. "Other people are looking for change."

Commissioners agree the single biggest change the community has asked for is the ward representation system, which is included in the charter draft.

Matthews said Sikeston has had a ward system before, but voted it out in favor of the city manager form of government.

The mix of representatives elected both from wards and at large will be "a real important factor" in avoiding some of the pitfalls experienced by other municipalities with the ward system, according to Matthews, such as a single ward's interests being pursued instead of the city's concerns as a whole.

Sharp said that although he believes recent city councils have done a good job of representing the whole city, council members all coming from the same neighborhood can create the perception for some residents that their concerns are not being addressed.

The ward system is expected to draw "people from every corner of the community," said Sharp, and together with other items included in the charter should give residents the sense that their city government is more accessible and in touch with the public.

In addition to "the opportunity for more and defined public participation" through the ward system, Schwaninger said other notable changes are the inclusion of initiative and referendum and the public election of the mayor.

Among the items remaining to be hashed out still is "the relationship between the city council and the boards and commissions which it appoints," according to Schwaninger.

Sikes and other commissioners have expressed their belief that this is a task for future city councils to address and not the charter commission, especially with autonomous boards such as the Board of Municipal Utilities, which he described as a complex and complicated entity that shouldn't be micro-managed by the city council.

"It's worked very well since 1967 when it was introduced in its current form," said Matthews.