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City backs down on charter change

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck

Williston voters will not be deciding on city charter changes during the March 2011 elections.
The decision came Tuesday night after a third discussion by council members on a proposed ordinance fell flat.
The new ordinance called for the mayoral position to be elected by the voters and gave the mayor authority to preside over council members as one of the five councillors.
The proposed ordinance also called for the police and fire chiefs to become charter positions and supervised by the city manager and hired and fired by the council. The mayor currently oversees the chiefs.
Council President Marc Nussel, who did not attend the last meeting, asked what had changed since the council’s several workshops where members had decided that the mayor would be elected from the council instead of by the people.
Councillor Steve Holcomb told Nussel that he believed some members of the council didn’t think the first draft of the ordinance would pass the voters.
“Some (voters) have told me flat out they would vote against it,” Holcomb said.
Vice President Debra Jones said she had issues with both drafts of the ordinance.
“So do we move forward or trash it?” Nussel asked.
“Either is good,” said Councillor Mike Shoemaker but I am leaning toward letting the people elect the mayor.”
Holcomb said he thought the current form of government was fine if they took the administrative duties (over police and fire chiefs) away from the mayoral position.
“We do not need to keep what we got,” Shoemaker said.
R. Gerald Hethcoat, the city’s current mayor, spoke up. “I think the people have a right to elect the mayor.”
Jones then added that she believed a large percentage of residents did not know the difference between the mayor and president’s responsibilities, and therefore may not be aware of what council is proposing–either way.
Because of time limitations, the council agreed to not put the issue on the March 2011 ballot and continue to discuss and finetune any changes it may have.
City Attorney Norm Fugate advised that the matter does not have to be on the city ballot and the council could put the matter on a county election ballot–perhaps in November 2011.