Charter Review Commission finishes drafting the charter

BY BEN MARKS | FEBRUARY 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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For the first time in 10 years, the Iowa City charter has reached its final-draft stage.

On Tuesday, the Charter Review Commission ironed out a few lingering details before settling on a final draft.

“I think it’s nice that we got it ready to go, so if nothing else good, bad, and the ugly, people will know this is what we’re changing so they can respond,” committee head Andy Chappell said.

Every 10 years, the city charter needs to be renewed, and a committee is appointed to review it for any potential changes.

This decade’s committee began work on April 1, 2014; it has one year to complete its task.

With plenty of time to go however, the committee has finished the final draft and is now ready to present it at the last public forum, Feb. 24.

Among the final changes was simplifying the wording in the charter about petitions and referendums in regards to supplementary petitions.

The pre-revision Iowa City charter drew a distinction between qualified voters — those who have registered to vote — and eligible voters, who could register but have not.

Because of this, the charter granted a chance for petitioners to submit a “supplementary,” or second petition, because petitioners may not know for sure how many of their signees were qualified or eligible.

However, with the distinction removed, the supplementary petition becomes redundant because petitions could now be assessed immediately for validity and returned to the petitioner to gather more signatures if necessary.

“The distinctions between the two aren’t great,” Chappell said. “My preference is for the shorter version because it acknowledges the changes we’ve made.”

In addition to removing the word “citizen” from the charter, the committee also voted to change the name of the Citizen’s Police Review Board to the Community Police Review Board.

Although the committee decided not to alter the mayoral selection process to a direct election, the panel discussed ways in which the process could be changed to be more “transparent.”

Currently, the mayor is a city councilor elected by the City Council.

The exact definition of the word “transparent” versus the idea of public was debated, with committee member (and one-time City Councilor) Karen Kubby advocating for specific language that would hold city councilors more accountable for their mayoral choices.

“We have a public process now,” she said. “And it’s ‘I nominate X,’ ‘I second,’ and there’s a vote. There’s not any discussion. There’s rarely a second nomination. That is technically public, but it is not transparent.”

Committee member Mark Schnatz, on the other hand, said he believed any language regulating transparency would be overly cumbersome and wouldn’t be effective without changing to a direct election.

“I don’t think there’s any space between the supervised system and election,” he said. “I don’t think you can find words that will do anything meaningful or that won’t be gotten to by the politics.”

Ultimately, the committee decided not to include any language regulating transparency in the mayoral selection.

Previously, it had rejected switching to a direct election.

Although the charter is nearing completion, Chappell said, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We still have a report to draft,” he said. “We still have public input, so changes can be made. I’d be surprised if there were huge changes made at this point, but it’s nice to at least be near completing our task.”

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