Charter commission still frustrated with council roadblock

Published 7:11 am Thursday, March 25, 2010

Councilman John Martin, who has claimed that he has always opposed changing the city’s charter, actually voted to go forward with the process more than two years ago — a point not lost on frustrated charter commission members during a monthly meeting Wednesday.

In fact, it was Martin who on Jan. 14, 2008, at a City Council work session, seconded a motion to have the city attorney provide the council with a set of recommended changes for review, essentially getting the ball rolling on changing Austin’s governing document.

Martin did not return phone calls or an e-mail for this story, but in recent months he has stated that his position has remained clear.

“I said it back then,” the councilman said in a previous interview. “We should not be messing with this document.”

Martin’s apparent change in position over the past two years is more than just an annoyance for the charter commission — needing unanimous council support to pass changes, Martin’s opposition, as well as opposition from councilwoman Marian Clennon, has kept that from happening.

Clennon wasn’t on council when the January 2008 vote occurred, but she has said recently that she thinks the changes should ultimately go to the public, not council.

On Wednesday, the commission took more steps in planning out what it hopes will be a route around the two-pronged roadblock — a trip to the ballot in November.

As part of that process, the commission has started focusing on possible public education campaigns in an effort to secure enough votes for the measure to pass.

One idea that should come to fruition soon will be providing a copy of the updated charter — along with the commission’s reasoning behind major changes — on the city’s Web site.

Down the road, the commission will also likely produce TV and radio spots, but commission member Woody Vereide cautioned against doing this too soon.

“If we’re going to go out and talk to people, you don’t do it before Oct. 1,” he said. “It’ll get lost.”

If and when the commission does do more promotion of the proposed changes, citizens will hear about plenty of structural differences, as well as a few substantive alterations.

On the structural side, the commission focused on making the document shorter and more “user-friendly.” Outdated terminology was also cleaned up.

But the commission also made a few substantive changes, like increasing the terms for mayor and council member at-large, and giving the mayor a vote in case of ties during council meetings.

Aside from Clennon and Martin, council has been generally supportive of the changes, and several members have expressed frustrations similar to the commission’s over Martin’s position.

“We spent a lot of time on this, too,” councilman Jeff Austin said. “If (Martin) didn’t want it, why vote it forward?”

Charter revision

To see the revised charter, go to www.ci.austin.mn.us and scroll down on the main page