Some Tooele citizens proved they weren’t apathetic about government or the city charter at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. During the Open Forum for Public Comment, three community members spoke strongly of their desire to keep the charter, criticizing both the city and The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin for not better informing the public on the issue. No citizens voiced support for appealing the charter.
As a result, Chairman Mike Johnson suggested the issue be tabled for three weeks. Other council members unanimously agreed.
The public is invited to city hall at 6 p.m. April 6 to question council and committee members who have studied the issue. Following another public hearing that will be part of the regular meeting, council members could vote on the issue.
Council members had originally planned to vote on whether to put a proposal to repeal the city’s charter on the November 2005 ballot.
Responding to public comment, Councilman John Hansen suggested it might be better to give voters the option to amend as well as appeal the charter.
Community member Joe Liddell, a former reporter at the Deseret News and Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, eloquently described merits of the charter. He said the original charter passed by an overwhelming majority after being carefully and painstakingly thought out and is an excellent document. Sam Woodruff, former city finance director, believes the charter is important because it provides checks between the executive and legislative. He believes it’s a fine document like the state and federal constitution.
“The issues today aren’t much different from what they were 40 years ago that the charter addresses,” Woodruff said.
“They put into the charter a little bit of organization — that they wanted the police to live with in city limits … those are changes that need to be made to the charter.”
Harvey Wright, former city councilman, reiterated the concern about the possibility of the government changing to a city manager form.
“We, the people, need to have access to the mayor to remove the deadwood,” said Wright.
Johnson emphasized that would be an entirely separate issue. If the charter were repealed the state constitution would give Tooele a form of government similar to what we have now. The voters would then decide if they wanted to change the type of government.
According to Liddell, the problems with the charter today are relatively small and the right thing to do is update the charter. Current problems with the charter include a section requiring Tooele City police officers to reside in the city, another section requiring two members of the Tooele City Council to sit on the city’s planning and zoning commission and another indicating that the departments of police, fire and public health should be combined into a Department of Public Safety.
Such requirements are mostly outdated in modern society and have not been followed.
“If having problems with residences of police officers … change it, use it,” Liddell said.
He also expressed concern that getting rid of the charter would give more power to “all those in metropolitan areas.”
Mayor Charlie Roberts created a committee a year ago to study whether the charter should be amended in accordance with updated practices. After a year of study the committee instead recommended doing away with the charter, which would mean Tooele would function according to the state constitution.
Committee members stated concern with what they see as another layer of government, reducing decision time and efficiency.
Several said while it’s a valuable historical document, it’s not utilized today. Some committee members liked the fact it was more democratic, but believed in today’s society, people were too apathetic to make use of a charter.
According to a document prepared by City Attorney Roger Baker, two factors largely determine a city charter’s value and strength: if the community’s personality and leaders are strong, independent and unified enough to maximize a charter’s advantages and if the charter contains sufficient distinctions and powers to be a meaningful break from other cities and the state.