The council held a special called meeting at City Hall to discuss Rust’s proposed modifications to the charter, which consist of changes to 15 sections, including those dealing with the mayor’s veto power, the powers and duties of the city manager, powers and duties of the mayor and the charter modification process.
The charter changes would make the city manager the chief administrative officer and remove administrative powers from the description of the mayor’s duties, leaving him as the chief executive with executive powers.
Rust had asked Mayor Gene Hobgood to add the proposed charter changes to the agenda during the Aug. 7 meeting, but Hobgood instead called a special meeting to review the new documents, which had not been provided to the council before the earlier meeting.
City Attorney Bobby Dyer said the last time significant changes were made to the city charter in 2012, a review committee spent 18 months working on proposed changes before a vote, and all council members knew the committee was reviewing the charter throughout the process.
“The major had formed a committee to look at the charter and they had met for a long time,” Dyer said Wednesday. “They were all aware that the committee was meeting … that committee was a big deal.”
Hobgood spent about 20 minutes Tuesday going through the proposed changes page-by-page, and commented on many issues he had with the draft, including some regarding proposed changes to the charter section about powers and duties of the mayor and city manager.
One proposed amendment to the charter would change the process and timeline for the mayor’s veto powers. The charter now grants the mayor 10 calendar days to approve or veto ordinances. If no action is taken by noon on the 10th day, the ordinance becomes effective.
Rust proposed a change to make it so the mayor has five business days, and if no action is taken on the sixth day, the ordinance would go into effect.
Hobgood said during the meeting five business days is an “arbitrary amount.”
“I really don’t see the advantage of changing it,” Hobgood said. “I’m not sure anything is gained or the public benefits from that five days.”
If the mayor vetoes an ordinance, the charter allows for four council members to overturn the veto at the next scheduled meeting. Rust proposed to change the charter so that three members of the council could overturn a veto.
“I have a real problem with three members overriding the veto,” Hobgood said. “It weakens that veto substantially.”
The proposed changes to the charter are on the agenda for discussion and possible action at the next Canton City Council meeting, scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 151 Elizabeth St.
Dyer confirmed the proposed changes would need to be heard in a first reading, which could take place tonight, before a final vote could be made on the second reading to pass or deny the changes.
Council questions rushed
Councilman Bill Grant said he treats the charter “a little more sacred than just changing it on a whim.”
“When it was presented last Thursday… I had not seen it, I had not heard it, I was not privy to any discussions to it, I think Councilwoman McGrew was not, I think the mayor was not, so it does make me wonder about the motivation and origination of it,” Grant said. “Makes me question the reason and rationale behind it.”
Grant said he thinks it’s dangerous “to start tinkering” with the charter, based on recent events and the “personalities” on the current council.
“I just wonder about the process we’re following,” he said.
One of the proposed changes calls for a charter review committee for making changes to the charter in the future, to be made up of the mayor, two council members, the city attorney and three members of the public, and Grant questioned why this proposed process wasn’t followed with Rust’s proposed changes to the charter.
“Why not follow that process for these changes? I don’t understand what the rush is,” Grant said. “I just want to be thoughtful and mindful of the process we follow.”
Councilwoman Sandy McGrew echoed Grant’s comments, and had concerns about rushing the changes.
“Our charter does deserve a thorough, thorough look,” McGrew said. “It deserves to have time taken with it, and not rushed.”
McGrew then said to Rust the changes looked like they took “a lot of work” to write and asked who helped him.
Rust said “I had help.” McGrew asked again who helped Rust write the changes and he said, “I did not do it alone.”
McGrew responded, saying that she was “not amused by Mr. Rust’s refusal to tell me who helped him on the document.”
Rust answered, “I didn’t try to amuse you.”
Rust said his proposed changes were simply an attempt to clarify the charter.
“This was to make the charter better, not to take power away from anybody else,” Rust said. “It’s an attempt to make a good document a little bit better.”
McGrew again asked, “Who worked on the document?”
“I want to be sure that who worked on the document is qualified to make the decisions on how council does its business,” McGrew said.
Despite confirming he did not write the proposed charter changes by himself, Rust did not answer repeated questions from McGrew.
Councilman Hooky Huffman said he’d “like to move more swiftly.”
“Let’s make some decisions and move on. Government just operates entirely too slow,” Huffman said.
McGrew said she’s concerned about moving too fast on charter changes.
“Why not hold off a few more months until we have a full council,” she said.
Residents question process, motives
Canton resident and former member of a past charter review committee, Pat Gold asked Tuesday “What is the big hurry?”
“Why would our council want to press forward with proposed charter changes prior to the election of a council member to fill the vacant seat? November is not very far away,” Gold said, referring to the Ward 3 council seat left vacant when Glen Cummins resigned to become city manager in July. “These proposals were just put forward; I’d be willing to bet 98 percent of our citizens don’t even know what you’re doing.”
Gold said she reviewed the proposed changes, and found some to be “questionable and even disturbing.”
“I worked on the charter proposed change committee along with Mr. Rust and other members for 18 months. Each charter suggestion, each change was accomp-anied with rationale, there was a reason with it,” Gold said. “No reason has been supplied for any of these proposed changes.”
Gold said the charter belongs to the residents of Canton, not the city council, adding some council members were not living up to their campaign platforms of transparency.
“This rush to passage denies the citizens a voice and opportunity to contribute to these proposals,” Gold said. “I do not support the way this is being handled.”
Bill Magruder also spoke and said the proposed changes to the charter were “a poorly disguised attempt at a power grab.”
“Why be in such a hurry? We’ve got three months (and) we’ll have a full council. The full citizenry will be represented,” Magruder said. “It rather reminds me of the way things are being done in Washington, D.C. now. Take advantage of a crisis.”
Magruder said to Rust, “you were one of the authors of this charter, and now you’re trying to distance yourself.”
Canton resident Andy Potts spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and said that he believes “democracy is dying in Canton.”
“We must act now to save our city from being overrun by the self-serving,” Potts said at the meeting, adding the proposed changes are meant to “basically strip the mayor of power, give the power to the city manager and make a three-person super-majority.”
Potts filed an ethics complaint against Cummins in June, who was the Ward 3 councilman and interim city manager at the time, and vying for the vacant city manager position.
In July, Cummins was named the city manager with a salary of $120,000 in a 3-2 vote, with Grant and McGrew opposed. Potts wrote in a letter to Hobgood, dated June 24, that Cummins should have stepped down from his council position before he applied for the city manager position.
“Ben Franklin said it best: ‘When the people can find a way to vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic,’” Potts said at the meeting Tuesday, referring to his June complaint.
The ethics complaint was reviewed and thrown out after Cummins resigned from his seat on the council. The Ward 3 seat has been vacant since Cummins resigned and became the city manager.
Potts said he questioned Rust’s motives for introducing the charter changes, and said there should be a full council before a decision is made on changing the city charter.
“I propose that all charter changes be put on hold until after the November elections,” Potts said.
Another speaker, Roy Taylor, said he agreed with the other people who commented on the proposed changes.
“A rush to change is not required,” he said.