The Charter Update Process

First in a series of four articles about the charter-change process.

Last week, Elkins Common Council began public deliberations on possible changes to the city charter. Because changes to a city’s charter can have profound effects on that city, it’s important that members of the public understand the process so they can provide informed input. Today through Friday, we’re running a series of blog posts providing background and contextual information about the charter-change process. (You can find more about this process, including an analysis of the current charter and charter change FAQs, here.)

The Elkins City Charter has not been updated since 1901. Council’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, which was adopted in September 2018, set various goals related to the charter. These goals included evaluating the feasibility of adopting a city manager form of government, considering restructuring and/or resizing council, and looking for other opportunities to further strengthen the structure and functioning of the Elkins city government.

Work toward these goals began in earnest during 2019 with initial discussions at several public meetings of council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee. In December of that year, council authorized retaining Tim Stranko, an attorney who has helped other West Virginia cities with charter changes, to assist with this process.

During the first half of 2020, Mr. Stranko made a series of informational presentations to council on allowed forms of government for West Virginia cities (e.g., strong mayor, manager, etc.), council structures in use at other cities, and other municipal best practices that might be considered for inclusion in an updated charter. These informational sessions concluded in June.

Council has now moved into a phase of public discussion and deliberation concerning what changes members feel they can support making to the charter. This phase began at council’s regular meeting of August 6, when Mr. Stranko presented his analysis of the 1901 charter, and council began discussing what improvements might be made.

These discussions will continue until council reaches consensus on changes that the members feel they can publicly endorse making to the city charter. (In this context, “endorsement” is an unofficial step signifying only that the presented draft is one that council can support proposing to the public.)

Here are the currently planned next steps:

  • Council deliberates, at its upcoming regular meeting(s), toward consensus on changes councilors can support
  • Council endorses a consensus update draft
  • Council and Mr. Stranko hold a public Q&A session (date TBD)
  • Council holds a formal public hearing concerning the proposed update
  • If no objections are entered at the public hearing, council reads an ordinance adopting and implementing the updated charter at two separate public meetings (where public comment will also be allowed)
  • If objections are entered that cannot be resolved, council can either abandon its changes or put its draft before the voters at a citywide election

Read all of the articles in this series:

  1. The Charter Update Process
  2. What is a Charter—and What Does Ours Say?
  3. Change Our Government Structure?
  4. Restructure Council?
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