Chickens headed to November ballot, along with charter updates

Great Falls voters won’t just be casting ballots for mayor and commissioners this November.

The city ballot will also include proposed changes to the city charter and a question on allowing chickens in the city limits. City Commissioners voted Wednesday night to approve resolutions, sending both of the issues to the November ballot for a public vote.

The proposed park district could also be headed to the ballot.

City officials said Wednesday that the clerk’s office had processed 4,388 returned surveys and currently, 8 percent of respondents opposed the creation of a park district. If the opposition reaches 10 percent, but stays below 50 percent, commissioners will have the option to do nothing, or send the proposal to the November ballot for a public vote.

City beginning process to update city charter

One of the proposed changes would change the deadline for Neighborhood Councils to organize after elections. Under the current charter, the councils are required to organize and choose a chairman within 30 days of the election, which is typically in November. City legal staff found this to be impractical since council members are typically not sworn in until January. The proposed change would move that deadline to allow members to first be sworn in.

Ron Gessaman, a regular meeting goer, told commissioners that the proposed change would still not allow councils enough time to organize, but Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik said the proposed change was written specifically to address the problem that Gessaman originally pointed out to staff.

Concerning language changes for vacancies on the commission, Neighborhood Councils and other city boards, Kathy Gessaman told commissioners she thought the proposal would be too strict in only excusing members for medical or health reasons if they miss more than a third of the meetings in a calendar year. She told commissioners to consider adding general excused absences.

Cik said those grounds for removal from office wouldn’t automatically be used, but it would allow the city to address elected or appointed officials who are not participating.

“If you’re getting to the point that you’re missing that many meetings, you’re not fulfilling your duty,” Cik said.

Failure to perform duties of an office is grounds for removal under state law and included in the proposed charter changes.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to send the proposed charter changes to the ballot.

Urban chickens will also be on the ballot as commissioners voted 5-0 to send the question to the public.

The ballot question will read “Do you support allowing property owners to maintain domestic chicken hens, within the incorporated Great Falls City limits, subject to regulation established by the Official Code of the City of Great Falls?”

If more than 50 percent of voters say yes, the city will then develop an ordinance regulating the keeping of chickens within the city limits.

Commissioners to consider putting urban chickens on November ballot

Dave Rosteck told commissioners that he’d lived in other cities with urban chickens and supported legalizing hens in Great Falls once more.

It’s “fantastic to become closer to our food,” he said. “Let the people decide.”

Commissioner Bill Bronson said the vote was not an indication of how to commission feels about the matter, but encouraged chicken supporters to organize to get the measure passed since the opposition likely will be organized and active in keeping the chicken ban.