Charter close to final approval

It’s getting close.

At the next Altoona Government Study Commission meeting on July 21, the commission expects to approve a final version of the home rule charter it has been working on for more than a year, before launching a campaign to convince voters to approve it in the November election.

On Monday, commission members debated how much detail to include – a recurring theme, with commissioner Dave Duncan always on the minimalist side.

Duncan helped nudge the commission to approve a setup that could allow a deadlock between City Council and the mayor – one of the council members – over appointment of the city manager or members of authorities, boards and commissions.

Initially, the working draft charter would give the mayor 30 days to nominate a candidate who could command the approval of a majority of the seven council members.

After 30 days, council would take over, nominating and approving its own candidate.

But commissioner Heather Eckels and others brought up the potential for problems, including the undermining of the mayor’s nomination prerogative.

Vice Chairman Richard Fiore suggested extending the mayor’s nomination opportunity to 90 days, which would give the mayor the chance for multiple nominations and help him avoid a “bad decision.”

To further bolster the mayor’s influence, Commissioner Richard Flarend suggested requiring a council “supermajority” – say five members – to override the mayoral preference.

But what happens if neither side succeeds in getting a candidate confirmed? – if it ends up “in limbo,” Flarend asked rhetorically.

Then Duncan stepped in.

“Why do we have to resolve it?” he asked. “Let them work it out.”

The other members were “conjuring up potential disasters,” Duncan added.

If there’s an unseemly and troublesome deadlock, public pressure would take care of it, he said.

Fiore summed up the standoff possibility: If the mayor can only command three votes – including his own – for a nominee, and council can only command four votes for its choice, “it could go on forever.”

The commission should not constrain future councils and staffers, but rather trust they’ll know what they’re doing – given their intimate familiarity with those future conditions that are impossible to predict now, Duncan said.

Later in the meeting, Duncan recommended elimination of various charter sections, with mixed success.

He succeeded in ditching a section that would have ensured council’s subpoena power during investigations, despite case law being “all over the place” on whether that power would exist without the explicit permission of the charter.

That section was designed to allow council to counteract over-reaching by a strong mayor – but the charter isn’t creating a really strong mayor, Flarend said.

Duncan failed in a bid to eliminate a charter section that would allow council to appoint a controller, although the commission voted to slim down the wording.

Council could still appoint a controller, if it saw fit, he argued.

Without the provision, council might have a hard time adding a controller, if the need for one arose mid-year, because there wouldn’t be money in the budget for it, commissioner Bev Green argued.

“You open the door for someone to challenge,” Green said.

That could cost council money unnecessarily, if it had to contest such a challenge, Flarend said.

Duncan also proposed eliminating a section on contract bidding, as “micromanagement,” but Fiore argued successfully that the protection is valuable,

given the potential for abuse.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.