Panel examines charter government for Cape Girardeau County

Friday, April 2, 2010

One argument in favor of a charter government for Cape Girardeau County is that appointed department heads are easier to remove from office than elected officials, Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president John Mehner said Thursday.

Speaking as part of a panel discussion of charter government at the Cape West Rotary Club, Mehner noted the difficulty of holding elected county officials accountable if they fail to show up for work or are not competent in their jobs.

State law does not allow for recall elections for county officials and, in many instances, a court action claiming they completely failed to perform their duties is necessary to remove them.

"In between elections, you have no effective control," Mehner said.

The panel Thursday also included former Cape Girardeau mayor Al Spradling, a lawyer, and Tom Ludwig, a lawyer who specializes in local government law, as well as former county auditor Weldon Macke and Mary Ellen Sharp of the League of Women Voters of Southeast Missouri. While no one on the panel took endorsed a charter -- and neither the chamber nor the league have endorsed the idea -- their comments showed a positive attitude toward the idea.

Macke, for example, said the current government structure splits duties among several offices. "When I was auditor, we had finances handled in four offices," he said. "It would be better if we could do it with one."

Other advantages of charter government, Ludwig said, could include a more representative, part-time county commission with lower pay. "I would like to at least have the opportunity for Cape Girardeau County voters to vote on an intelligent charter."

Cape Girardeau is a first-class county, which may, under the Missouri Constitution, adopt a charter claiming greater powers than counties are otherwise allowed under state law. To adopt a charter, a petition drive or election asking whether voters want to consider a new form of government must occur. If successful, circuit judges appoint a panel of 14 people to write it. The final document must be approved by voters.

Four Missouri counties -- Jefferson, Jackson, St. Charles and St. Louis -- have charters.

Charters have been defeated in several counties due to questions about the new government's power over eminent domain, planning and zoning, the costs of implementation and whether a plan favors one area of a county over another, Sharp said.

"If those issues aren't addressed at the outset, it is likely to fail," she said.

Panel members agreed that if a charter is attempted, the effort will begin after November's elections.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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