The following is League's position on local government as amended following the consensus meeting on September 28, 1991 and adopted by the Board of Directors at its December meeting.
Position in brief:
A city government serves many functions and performs many services for the people living within its boundaries. The League of Women Voters believes that the government of a city should be open and responsive to the needs of its citizens and representative of the electorate. Its purposes, structure and principles should be expressed in a charter, a broad, basic document.
The League further believes that the language of the charter should be simple and without ambiguities. The charter should clearly define the organization of the city government, should state fair and enforceable standards of conduct for the mayor, city officers and employees, and should specify procedures for its amendment.
- A city's fundamental law stems from many sources -- the charter, ordinances, state law, and judicial opinions. It is neither necessary nor sufficiently flexible to codify all law within the charter itself.
- The charter should be understandable to the layman. Its organization should be clear and logical. Ambiguous language should be removed and care taken to avoid confusing terms, references and statements.
- The specific structure of the government, the duties, responsibilities, powers and limits of the elected and appointed officials should be stated in the charter.
- The city council should be primarily responsible for legislating, broad policy-making and oversight;* the mayor should be primarily responsible for the implementation and execution of the policies set by. the council. The co-equal branches of government should be structured to permit accountability to the voters by individual council members and the mayor.
- The mayor should appoint all department heads and retain ultimate responsibility for actions taken by any member of the administration. (This position does not preclude requirement for council approval of such appointments.)
- The council should have reliable and independent sources of information to assist in its legislating and policy-making duties.
- The electoral system adopted should ensure fair and equitable representation for all citizens and provide for the divergent needs and interests of the various groups within the city and county while promoting the election of a council which will keep county-wide interests and concerns foremost on its agenda. We believe that a small, visible council functions most effectively and can more readily be held accountable for its actions.
(A mixed single-member and at-large district system is preferred, with the single-member district seats out-numbering the at-large seats. League would support a small increase in the size of the council from the present nine, especially if at-large seats were to be added.)
- League supports election of the city council on a nonpartisan basis.
- There should be no limit on terms for council members. There should be a two-consecutive-term limit for the mayor's position. He/she should be allowed to run again for that office after vacating it for one term.
- League supports the concept of the citizen legislator. This term is defined as being one who gives only part of one's time to public service, that may be part of a day, some weeks or months, or a few years away from the private sector.
- The charter should provide for an independent ethics commission which would enforce standards of conduct that include disclosure of interest and conflicts of interest of all officers and employees, elected and appointed, and issue advisory opinions on whether conflict exists in certain situations when requested to do so by the individuals involved.
- If a council member faces a substantial conflict of interest in a matter before the council, said member should be free to abstain from voting. Any member who has a conflict on proposed legislation should, in addition to a written disclosure filed with the council chair and the city clerk's office, make an oral disclosure on the floor before entering the discussion on the proposed legislation, and once again before the voting begins, this time announcing his/her vote with an appropriate explanation.
- Amendment procedures specified in the charter should provide for comprehensive and mandatory review by citizens every 10 years. Citizens should be permitted to initiate amendments without council approval of the proposed amendments.
The city should be required to provide publicity and information for charter amendments such as sending a notice of the proposals with the pros and cons listed to all households containing at least one registered voter 15 days before the election. (This should include the intent of the each proposal, the proposed amendments as they will appear on the ballot, and explanation of the proposed amendments where the language on the ballot may not be clear to the average voter.)
The adoption of an amendment or revision of the charter should require the approval of a majority of the voters voting thereon.
- All citizens should have access to the decision-making process, and citizen understanding and participation should be encouraged at all levels in the governmental process. Citizen representation may be through the elected officials and/or by more direct input from community organizations. Any citizen organization(s) created by charter or city ordinance should be funded** and given full support from the city government.
*oversight - In this context, it means management supervision, a process by which the council may be informed of executive performance and compliance with legislative policies' intent.
**funded This is not to be interpreted to mean support for salaries of all board and commission members.