City beginning process to update city charter

During their June 20 meeting, the City Commission will consider whether to accept proposed changes to the city charter on first reading and set a public hearing for July 5.

Changes to the charter requires a ballot measure, so if commissioners agree with the changes, the proposal will be on the November ballot.

The charter was adopted in the late 1980s and voters have approved amendments related to neighborhood councils and additional mills for library funding.

City working to update municipal code

Since the city is already scheduled for a November election, with an estimated cost of $45,000, city staff estimate the cost attributed to the charter update will be about $15,000.

If approved, changes to the charter within MuniCode, the only system housing the city’s entire code and making it publicly available, will be about $90.

City staff have been going through the municipal code in its entirety to address typographical errors, conflicts with state and federal law and places where the city code conflicts with itself. Staff are going through title by title to review those issues and make proposed changes to the commission. Sections related to fireworks and off-street parking have already been approved by the commission and a revision to the animal code is on the June 20 agenda.

In working through the code, staff also found a number of issues in the charter and are proposing to update and deconflict the charter with other parts of city code and state law.

The charter assigns making administrative and personnel code and/or policies to the commission, but in assigning duties to the city manager, the charter states, “except for the purpose of inquiry, or investigation, the City Commission shall be involved with administrative and management operations solely through the City Manager.”

Staff state in their agenda report that the provision requiring the commission to adopt administrative and personnel policies is inconsistent with other provisions of the charter and given the board responsibilities given to the city manager in overseeing staff, it’s appropriate for the city manager to approve and adopt personnel conduct policies developed by staff. The proposal is to move that provision from the commission’s duties to the city manager’s duties in the charter.

Another section deals with vacancies on the commission.

It currently states that the office of mayor or commissioner become vacant upon death, resignation, recall or forfeiture of office. Grounds for forfeiture of office shall be loss of eligibility for election; violation of any express provision of this charter; conviction of a felony.

But, that provision is inconsistent with Montana Code Annotated, Title 2, Chapter 16, Part 5 and elected officials may become vacant from their offices for other reasons including conviction of offenses involving moral turpitude or ethical violations, mental disease or defect, physical disease or defect, absence from regularly scheduled meetings, or simply refusing to perform the duties of the office.

City staff is proposing to incorporate those reasons into the charter. Staff is also proposing to include reasons for vacating office: absence from more than one-third of the regular meetings in a calendar year without a health or medical excuse; inability to fulfill the duties of the office as a result of physical illness or mental disorder (A determination of whether the commissioner or mayor has a mental disorder to be made in compliance with state law);  neglecting or refusing to discharge the commissioner or mayor’s duties.

Adding those provisions, staff state in their report, make the charter consistent with vacancy provisions for members of other city boards and commissions.

Another recommendation is to change the title of the court from “city court” to “municipal court,” which is what the city’s judicial body is operating as since under state law, city courts and municipal courts have different requirements.