Whitehall Council clashes over charter commission

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A couple of Whitehall City Council members turned the heat up under President Brent Howard at the Jan. 22 meeting over appointments to a Charter Review Commission.  

The previous evening an email was sent to all council members by Howard announcing that he had chosen five people to serve on the commission.  Howard is recommending Heather Eskew, former city attorney Cheryl Nester, former council members Thomas Potter and Greg Thurman, and Amalee Soteriades, who has served on the commission previously.  

The city’s charter must be reviewed every five years, at which time the committee goes over the entire charter to see what needs to be updated or changed.  The changes are then brought to council for review, and if they feel the changes are necessary, they must be placed on a ballot for the citizens to decide.

Councilwomen Jackie Thompson and Leslie LaCorte objected to the appointments, pointing out that no council members were given the opportunity to go out into the community to see who would be interested in serving on the commission.  

Howard was adamant that the past practice has always been for the council president to make the recommendations.

When questioned repeatedly why they were not given any input and a last minute notice was brought to the table, Howard repeatedly said that he thought they were questioning his integrity and intelligence.  Both assured him that was not the case.

Howard said that he had mentioned the Charter Commission would be coming up soon.  

LaCorte reminded the president that the majority of representatives were not on council the last time the charter was reviewed, and that as their president, Howard should have explained the process to them, and allowed their input.  

Both councilwomen continued to reiterate that it should not be a one-person decision, especially since he had failed to give any information about the process, and suddenly brought five names to the table without any discussion.

Thompson asked why they just found out the night before a council meeting via email.  

She kept pressing the fact that the charter states that council shall appoint the commission members and not one person.  

Howard also said that it is supposed to be done in January, but as Thompson pointed out, there is nothing that says it has to be done in January, and the next meeting that it would be read for a possible vote would be Feb. 5.  

Howard also kept insisting that the council president has always solely made the recommendations.

Howard and Mayor John Wolfe offered that council members could still bring forward an ordinance to add people to the committee.  However, the additional people would only have input and no vote. The only ones with voting rights would be those that were chosen by Howard.

 

LaCorte and Thompson both said that they were not questioning Howard’s intelligence or integrity.   There were a couple of people on his list that they were not comfortable with, and they questioned just how dedicated they will be to the effort.

LaCorte issued a statement saying, "A committee for the laws of our city should have been a joint effort.  I am disappointed that we all were not asked to support this on who was and could be selected.   I am not supporting the process that was taken of one person… The charter contains the most important laws in supporting our citizens and employees, and it should not have been a single person selection no matter what position they hold in the city."

Councilman Leo Knoblauch said that he absolutely does not want to see the ordinance passed on the first reading and he wants further discussion on the matter.

 

When contacted, former mayor Lynn Ochsendorf, who served as council president  from 1996-2003, stated that she always notified council members that the charter review process would be coming up, and specifically asked them to submit names they would like to be considered.  

The names were then discussed in an executive session before being placed in an ordinance and voted upon, Ochsendorf added.

The next council meeting will be Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.  

Councilman Jim Graham was absent from the meeting.

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