NORMAN — The Charter Commission heard from the public at an open forum at city hall on Thursday. The Norman City Council charged the commission with a very targeted review of eight issues.
The city’s charter can only be changed by a vote of the people.
The most controversial item under consideration is a clause in the charter that requires a vote of the people to approve any utility rate increase. The need for a popular vote to approve a rate increase is believed to be unique in the state and possibly the nation.
While the city council asked the commission to make a recommendation on whether to allow the city council to approve a rate increase up to 3 percent without a popular vote, the commission is recommending the item be on the ballot for complete removal.
“It’s not realistic to waste time on a percentage increase because it won’t get the job done,” Commission chair Harold Heiple said.
“How will raising rates also help us?” said Cindy Rogers, adding that she is always willing to vote to tax herself if she understands the reason.
Commissioner Ken McBride said the charter commission’s proposal does not encourage rate increases or increase the rates. The commission is recommending a vote on whether a utility increase should remain in the hands of the people or if that decision should be given to the elected member of the city council.
The eight charter changes under consideration are:
· Article II, Section 1: Consider changing verbiage from “compensation” to “stipend” in regard to compensation of city council members.
· Article III, Section 1: Consider simplifying the process for removal of the city manager.
· Article III, Section 6: Consider creating a mechanism by which the council could request information regarding a specific city department from the city manager.
· Article III, Section 7: Consider requiring a city employee to take a leave of absence to run for partisan political office.
· Article XVI, Section 2: Consider whether the city council should be empowered to increase utility rates not more than 3 percent annually without requiring a citywide vote.
· Article XVII, Section 2: Consider whether employee compensation language needs to be modernized.
· Article XX: Consider amending or updating the Reapportionment Commission process or procedure.
Once the commission has completed its review, it will make recommendations to the city council. The council will then decide which, if any, of those issues will be put to a vote.
While there were some comments and questions on other items, the prime focus was the utility rate vote.
Charles Wesner said pubic doesn’t trust the city council. He said the debate over the high-density ordinance was an example.
“Now we’re going to have another contentious vote in which developers get to dump a million dollars to slander anyone who doesn’t agree,” Wesner said.
Shawn Hook said the city council has often been afraid to bring rate charges to a vote for fear they will get turned down.
Lyntha Wesner said needed rate increases could be included every year with the city council votes. She said if the city explains why a rate increase is needed, it’s usually approved.
Rogers said she will support a water rate increase because she knows it’s needed, but keeping that right to vote on the rates is a means of keeping control on growth.
Steve Davis said he is concerned about losing the right for people to vote on the rate increases.
Heiple said the input received by residents was insightful and helpful to the commission.