Lawmakers overturn voters’ votes on charter changes – Williston Observer

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BY JASON STARR

Observation staff

In March 2020, Williston voters overwhelmingly approved three changes to the city’s charter. Over the past winter, however, two of them were rejected by state lawmakers.

The charter is the city’s general governing document. Any modification requires legislative approval.

Lawmakers on the House Government Operations Committee approved one of the three changes this spring, and the entire legislature followed suit. This change gives the city manager the power to hire and fire the manager of the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. Previously, this authority rested with the library board.

City manager Erik Wells noted that the change formalized the way library managers had been hired in the past, with the city manager hiring with the advice and consent of library administrators.

“There was no formal documentation as to who held final authority and what the (hiring) process would look like, which led to the process of changing the charter,” Wells said. “It does the city good to have this documented in the city charter.”

At the same time as the change of charter, the city and the trustees signed a memorandum of understanding in 2020 to formalize the way in which various elements will be managed between the two entities.

But in regards to two more charter changes the city sent to the Statehouse this session, Williston voters have been overruled by lawmakers.

The city demanded more power over local governance with the two proposals, one of which would have allowed the city to pass charter changes without legislative approval as long as another city passed a similar charter change.

“The concept is that if one municipality is allowed to do something under its charter, other municipalities should be able to ‘opt’ for the same and not be subject to legislative scrutiny,” Wells wrote in a recent memo. to the jury.

According to Representative John Gannon, deputy chair of the House Government Operations Committee, the committee’s lawmakers have been advised by lawyers for the Legislative Assembly that such an allocation would be “unconstitutional.”

“The Legislature has the power to make changes to the charter,” said Gannon, who also sits on the City of Wilmington board of directors. “Allowing one city to choose charter changes made by other cities could have some very strange results. “

The committee also rejected a proposal that would have put in place a city-specific process to deal with negotiating dead ends over employment contracts between the city and its fire and police unions. A state law passed in 2019 requires cities and public safety unions to resolve deadlock through binding arbitration. Williston relied on mediation during stalemate in contract negotiations – binding arbitration was only an optional final step. But this process is not codified in the city charter.

The charter change that voters approved “would have established a process in the charter that would have been different from state law,” Wells said.

Representative Gannon said legislative lawyers advised members of the Government Operations Committee to reject the proposal so as not to create inconsistencies with collective bargaining processes between municipalities.

“We didn’t understand why (Williston) needed collective bargaining language in their charter given that it’s already in the state’s statutes,” he said.

Wells expects cities to continue to push for freedom from state lawmakers over local charter changes.

“(Charter changes) can take a long time and many steps,” he said. “We are looking to speed up this process and really have local control and the will of community members to decide on these issues. “

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