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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

Voters can charter course for city

Sunday, March 31, 2002

SIKESTON - Although the vote to present the Home Rule Charter to the voters was unanimous, at least one Charter commissioner has enough reservations about some of the Charter's content to vote against its adoption Tuesday.

Seven of the 13 charter commissioners said they plan to vote for the Charter with the mayor elected by the voters, four said they plan to vote for the Charter with the mayor selected by the council and one commissioner plans to vote no on the Charter but if it is passed prefers the mayor continue to be selected by the council.

One commissioner declined to share how he intends to vote on the Charter but confirmed his preference is for a council-selected mayor.

Among the major changes for Sikeston included in the Home Rule Charter is the ward system.

Presently city government has five council members elected at large with the mayor selected annually from among the council by the council members themselves.

The charter will increase the council to seven members - one each to be elected by the residents of four newly-created wards and two to be elected at large.

The seventh seat will either be a third at-large council member or a mayor elected at large, depending on election results.

Which ever way voters decide - to have the mayor elected by voters or selected internally by the council - the Charter calls for a three-year term for the mayor.

This lengthening of the mayor's term was among the most divisive issues among commissioners.

"I think that three years is a long time for the mayor," Commissioner Brian Menz said. "I do have some concerns with that."

Commissioner Manuel Drumm was very vocal among those who think a three-year term for mayor is too long. "I have a lot of trouble with that," Drumm said. "Every mayor except one who served in the past said it is a terribly time consuming job. Most were happy to be done with it after a year or so."

Drumm said mayors will have no more power than city council members, but being elected and with a term of that length may think they do.

Phil Boyer, who serves on the city council in addition to being a Charter commissioner, shares the concern that a mayor elected by voters for a three-year term "might get the feeling that they have more power than they actually do."

"I really feel that three years is entirely too long," said Commissioner Scott Matthews. He voiced his concern about the "burnout factor" of having a time-consuming job without pay and without any additional power.

"I kind of actually pushed for three years," said Scott Jenkins, who was among the commissioners who felt a year was too short. "I think we found a happy medium."

Commissioner Jeffrey Sutton said he thinks the three years is an appropriate length - one year to learn the job, one year to get projects started and the third year to finish things up.

Shad Old, commissioner, is also pleased with the three-year mayoral term. "I think it's just right if not too short," Old said.

Boyer said he prefers the mayor be selected by the council. "The council needs to have a comfort level with the mayor," Boyer said.

Time on the council also prepares prospective mayors for being a public figure, according to Boyer, and helps prevent them from being a "loose cannon" or getting surprised into making a comment for television news camera crews that may be misinterpreted.

Commissioner Larry Nickell said he is not really all that concerned about the length of the mayor's term but also hopes voters will opt for a council-selected mayor as the position is mainly ceremonial.

"The council should select who they want to preside over their meetings," Nickell said. "But there's a lot more in the charter than that. The point is self-rule, the ability for referendum, initiative and recall. Those things are much more important to me than how the mayor is elected."

"Both the Home Rule Charter and directly electing the mayor are basic to our community seizing the opportunity for future economic prosperity and growth," said Troy Wilson, commissioner. "I urge all to vote and to vote 'yes' for both items."

"I want people to have a strong hand in their government and elect their mayor," said Harry Sharp, commission chairman. Sharp said it is his hope that mayors begin to run on an agenda instead of "just running a popularity contest."

Commissioner Jim Schwaninger said the "diverse and even sometimes confrontational thinking" among commissioners was essential to exploring all the options and avenues. "In the end, we were able to arrive at consensus," Schwaninger said.

"The U.S. Constitution was not perfect in its first go around, and our charter is not 100 percent perfect in everyone's eyes either," said Schwaninger. "It is a good start to give our council the flexibility to do what needs to be done as we face a constantly changing future."

"Past city councils have done an excellent job," Menz said. "This is just an opportunity to move forward."

"I think its time for a change to city government," said Larry Tetley, commissioner. "This is what the voters asked for and this is why we had the election last year. I just hope people get out and vote one way or another."

Sharp said if anyone does have a problem with any particular section they shouldn't let that issue keep them from accepting the Charter. "I don't think the Charter will solve Sikeston's problems, but without the Charter I don't think there is a solution for Sikeston," he said.

"There wasn't a first class lounge on Noah's ark, but it was the only boat in town," said Sharp. "Once you have it, you can amend it if necessary."