Councilwoman wants charter review process opened up

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The city of Cape Girardeau should open up its charter review process to more public input, Councilwoman Loretta Schneider said Monday.

At a special meeting called to formally approve last week's transportation sales tax election results and authorize a downtown traffic study, Schneider suggested the charter review process has been too limited.

"I am really disappointed," she told her fellow council members. "It seems like we are wasting our time."

She also suggested the council needs to hold more study sessions to deliberate about city issues. But other council members said they don't want more meetings.

Councilman Matt Hopkins walked out during the discussion, saying he had another meeting to attend.

Councilman Charlie Herbst said it's the job of the city manager to direct city business. "We pay him to run the city. We are like a board of directors," he said.

A special, eight-member charter committee appointed by the council has held two meetings in recent weeks to discuss making a limited number of changes to the city's governing document.

Final approval would rest with the city council and ultimately the voters. Any election likely wouldn't occur until next year, city officials have said.

Mayor Jay Knudtson and the rest of the council favor a limited charter review.

Knudtson said the committee has been instructed to look at just a few specific issues: Filling vacancies on the city council, amending restrictions on raising user fees, eliminating single-candidate elections for council and restructuring or eliminating the city ethics commission.

But Schneider said the council could have proposed such changes without a charter committee.

"I think people ought to be allowed to make suggestions," Schneider said.

The charter review should consider issues like whether to scrap the ward system and elected council members at large, or possibly expand the council to have voters elect two council members from each ward, she said.

The city has seven council members, one from each of six wards and a mayor who is elected at large.

Schneider said city residents often are confused by the fact that council wards and voting precincts are two different things.

"The whole precinct thing is terribly confusing," Knudtson agreed.

But several of Schneider's fellow council members said they didn't want to open up the charter to a full review.

Councilman Charlie Herbst said reviewing the ward system would be time-consuming and require numerous public meetings.

Knudtson said, "The council right now thinks things are running pretty good."

As for the traffic study, the council hired Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier Traffic and Transportation Engineers to study and recommend improvements to downtown traffic flow.

The $12,700 study, which will focus on Main and Water streets, is expected to be completed by the end of September, city officials said.

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