ROYAL OAK — The City Commission voted April 15 against placing a proposed change to the city’s referendum process on the November ballot.
The proposal was one of a series of nonbinding votes by the City Commission that provided guidance to the Charter Review Committee on what amendments it would later approve for the November ballot. At the meeting, the committee presented six amendments it had decided needed to be addressed.
“We just want to make sure that the City Commission is on board with putting all of these issues on the ballot before Mark (Liss, deputy city attorney,) spends any additional time working on the details to satisfy the attorney general,” said City Attorney David Gillam.
The City Commission voted in favor of four of the amendments and shot down one that would establish a standard minimum number of petition signatures required for a referendum. The commission did not vote on a proposed amendment that would repeal the requirement that a commissioner resign before running for mayor.
The commission will hold a formal vote on which amendments to place on the ballot at a later date. A supermajority vote is required for one to be placed on the ballot. Residents will then vote on the different amendments.
The Charter Review Committee had proposed that the minimum number of petition signatures required to block an ordinance be changed from 10 percent of the prior election’s turnout to a flat 1,000 signatures.
“If we have a certain number, like 1,000, like we propose, it wouldn’t be dependent on the turnout of the previous election; it would just be dependent on a number that everyone finds reasonable,” said Ron George, the committee chairman.
George said that, if a previous election had a low turnout, the number of signatures required for a referendum may be too small to accurately represent the sentiments of the city.
Gillam added that the proposed amendment is not in reaction to any current events.
“This is something they’ve been working on for a long time,” he said.
The vote was 4-3 against the proposed ballot amendment.
Commissioner Jim Rasor said collecting 1,000 signatures may be too laborious.
“I think 1,000 is quite a bit in a city of almost 60,000 people,” Rasor said.
The commission did approve unanimously three potential ballot initiatives that would lower the age requirement from 25 to 21 to hold elected office, repeal the requirement that someone own property to hold elected office and allow the city manager to appoint the city treasurer and assessor. Currently, the commission must approve the hiring of the treasurer and assessor.
Commissioner David Poulton was the lone vote against a proposal to require the commission to fill a vacancy within 60 days or put on a special election.
Poulton said recently that he voted against the measure because there is no reason to charge taxpayers for a special election that is not needed.
The amendment was originally presented to the commission, calling for the next-highest vote-getter from the previous election to fill the vacancy after 60 days, but the commission altered the language.
City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said that the threat of a special election would force the commission to fill that vacancy.
“No commission would want to be responsible for sitting on their hands and forcing a special election when one is completely unnecessary,” DuBuc said.
The commission did not provide the Charter Review Committee guidance on whether it would allow the amendment repealing commission members to resign when running for mayor to be placed on the ballot.
George said the current charter language is inconsistent with other local, state and federal laws that do not require people to quit their current elected positions to run for another.
“We feel that one of the best places to get to know candidates for mayor is from the City Commission,” George said. “You all are forced to put your opinion on the record and so the voters have a good ability to evaluate you.”
But commissioners expressed concern over whether it would cause strife and increase grandstanding during the meetings.
Gillam said days after the meeting that he hopes to have the commission’s final vote by the end of July. Then he will send the proposed amendments to the state’s attorney general for his opinion on whether the amendment would be in line with state law. Although the attorney general’s opinion would not prevent the city from placing the language on the ballot, Gillam said it’s one less argument the city would have to deal with.
Liss said Royal Oak often offers to voters possible changes to the charter.
“It’s been a culture of habit that Royal Oak looks at its charter every couple of years,” Liss said recently.
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