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Wednesday, November 2,2011

A charter revision: Is it worth it?

by Andy Balaskovitz

What would the city of Lansing have to gain by rewriting its City Charter? Not much, says the city clerk.


“I don’t see a benefit to it. It would be distracting,” said Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope.


The City Charter is a 28-page document that outlines the duties of elected officials, boards and commissions, as well as the general regulatory structure of the city including assessments and taxation. It establishes the process of adopting new legislation. Basically, the charter sets the ground rules for how the city works.


The current charter was adopted by Lansing voters in 1978 and has been amended twice since, in 1993 and 1994. One of the provisions in the 1978 charter said voters would automatically be asked to revise it every 12 years after 1987.


Swope has been against this proposal from the get-go. While a few amendments may be necessary — such as the number of times City Council meets a year — Swope has said a wholesale revision isn’t necessary.


“While there may be some cases that can be handled on an individual basis, an overall charter revision isn’t needed,” he said.


On top of that, it could be expensive.


If voters approve the revision, they would have to elect a nine-member Charter Commission, which would likely happen in the Republican presidential primary early next year, Swope has said. Proposed changes set forth by a commission would have to be approved by voters. These elections could result in at least one special election, which Swope estimates run about $60,000 a piece — the main cost is paying election workers. The City Council might also vote to pay charter commissioners, but it wouldn’t have to, and the city clerk and city attorney offices would have to devote staff time to the revision process.


Swope also said he’s concerned that a wholly revised Charter could change the way the city functions on a day-to-day basis. “Is it going to be different? Will the process be different? It just makes me nervous.”

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