Crestwood voters OK measure adding censure to City Charter

By BURKE WASSON

Despite having its motives and even its very existence questioned, the work of the Crestwood Charter Review Commission has resulted in some change.

Crestwood residents voted last week to include a provision in the charter that allows for the censure of elected officials who commit a charter violation. The only such disciplinary method that has existed in the city’s charter, which was drafted in 1995, has been removal from office.

For this reason, Charter Review Commission member John Bell said that the commission recommended this change as “as a middle ground in between taking no action or removing a person from office.”

The censure option, which essentially is a public reprimand for a charter violation, was placed on the Nov. 7 ballot as Proposition 3 and was approved by 57.79 percent of 5,693 people who voted on that proposal.

Proposition 3 was the only one of five proposed amendments made by the Charter Review Commission that was approved last week by voters. Other proposed amendments — including eliminating term limits for aldermen, reducing the signatures required for initiative, referendum and recall petitions and adding several wording changes to the charter were defeated.

Proposition 1, which proposed amending 18 sections of the charter by changing and updating various language, was rejected by 54.92 percent of voters. That proposal was voted on by 5,401 residents.

Proposition 2, which would have eliminated term limits for aldermen, was shot down by 63.59 percent of voters. That proposal was voted on by 5,806 residents — more than any of the five propositions received.

Proposition 4, which would have reduced the number of signatures required on a petition for initiative and referendum, garnered the most opposition from Crestwood residents in the election and was nixed by 64.67 percent of voters. That proposal was voted on by 5,766 residents.

Proposition 5, which would have cut the number of signatures needed on a petition for recall, was denied by 60.81 percent of voters. That proposal was voted on by 5,744 residents.

Since the formation of the Charter Review Commission in 2005, some residents had challenged the very existence of the committee because the city did not wait 10 years after its previous review committee disbanded to form a new version. The charter states: “From time to time, but not less than every 10 years, the mayor and Board of Aldermen shall provide for a Charter Review Committee to consider whether any amendments to this charter are appropriate.”

During a May 24, 2005, Board of Aldermen meeting, City Attorney Robert Golterman responded to concerns from resident and now-Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild that he interprets that statement to mean that the Charter Review Commission can meet less than every 10 years.

“If you read the sentence in its entirety, it states ‘from time to time,’ which would suggest that it’s not particularly restrictive,” Golterman said at that meeting. “It goes on to say ‘but not less than every 10 years,’ which I interpreted to mean that in any 10-year period, the Charter Review Committee has to meet at least once. And so we’re in the first 10 years, and they’re meeting in that period of time, and that was my interpretation.”

Mayor Roy Robinson told the Call last week after the election that he is relieved that the recommendations made by the Charter Review Commission have now been voted on by residents.

“I’m very happy it’s over with,” Robinson said. “I could have muddied the waters and removed the commission and done all the things that would have done nothing but cause turmoil. And I’m happy that I allowed the process to go forward with the original people. All these are good people. They all contributed and worked hard. Some people have the perception there was some political things in there, but I couldn’t pick out the people I think would do that. I think (Charter Review Commission Chairman and former Mayor) Jim Brasfield was a good, unbiased-type person who held the thing together and made sure it was done properly. And like I said, I’m glad it’s over. First of all, I don’t like to see a lot of changes to something that is working just fine as it is unless we find that it needs to be changed to move forward.”

At the same time, Robinson acknowledged the commission’s recommendations likely suffered with voters because of the perception that its members made their proposals because of political motives. The mayor said he did not vote in favor of any of the five propositions.

“I think they viewed it as a way to have better advantage of controlling things the way they wanted it,” he said. “And the perception was that it was political. Not for the good of the city, but for political reasons. So I think that’s probably what hurt it worse than anything else is that perception.”

The five proposed amendments to the charter also suffered from a delay. They originally were placed on the city’s April ballot, but were removed after five Crestwood residents formed a petitioners’ referendum committee challenging the ordinance that called for a vote on the proposals.

The city’s deadline to have ballot forms to the county Board of Election Commissioners for the April election was before the deadline that the petitioners’ committee had to report its signatures. However, that committee — which included residents Bob Deutschmann, Robert Beck, Jackie Stockhausen, Roger Anderson and Frank Spinner — failed to report any signatures.

With the question of the Charter Review Commission’s legality aside and no more delays, Robinson said he is turning his attention to what the new censure provision will mean for the city. By the mayor’s own admission, “a censure is nothing more than a slap on the hand” for elected officials who violate the charter.

Though he did not vote for the amendment, Robinson said he believes censure might be useful.

“The censure one, I think the people thought that they were doing the aldermen and the mayor a favor by doing that,” Robinson said. “The way they put it out, instead of throwing them out of office, the only other alternative gives them a way of not throwing them out. I think that’s the way the people understood it. And I recognize that there probably are situations where censure would be applicable. There should be some means of controlling. Not controlling what the people are speaking, but control, sometimes, their actions. We don’t want to control anybody’s freedom of speech. But what we want to do is make sure they’re not damaging other people or hurting other people with their actions.”

Bell, who drafted much of the text for the censure proposal in Proposition 3, said he believed that with removal from office as the only previous option for an elected official who violates the charter, he feared that a mayor or alderman could be thrown out for a subjectively minor violation.

“It’s a way to have an office holder be publicly accountable for something negative that they did, but without going overboard,” Bell said. “Where the punishment, if you could call it that, fits the transgression. And what was in the old charter was to completely remove a person from office. It just didn’t seem to be appropriate in all cases.

“Somebody might inadvertently do something that they’re not supposed to do. But it’s not like a throw-them-out-of-office kind of a thing. Yet it might be serious enough where you say: ‘We need to go on record here as something.’ So that’s kind of where it’s at. It’s not a big, public-shaming kind of thing, but something that is moderate.”

After previously stating that he would consider forming another Charter Review Commission in the future, Robinson said last week after the election that with four of the five amendments defeated, he does not believe a majority of residents want to see more changes to the charter.

“I think the people have spoken,” Robinson said. “They don’t want people messing with the charter. Maybe 10 years from now, they might. They may have reason to. I don’t know. But right now, I say they don’t.”

Bell and Brasfield both told the Call last week that after the work that they and other Charter Review Commission members put into the amendments, they feel some satisfaction that at least one of the five proposals was approved by voters.