Petoskey City Council members decided Monday to continue exploring options for lengthening future terms of office for the city’s mayor and council members.
Changing those term lengths ultimately would require approval of a charter modification by city voters. On Monday, the council voted 3-2 to have city legal counsel draft potential ballot-question language for further consideration at an upcoming meeting. Another council decision would be needed to move ahead and put the matter on the ballot.
Mayor Ted Pall and council members Bob Johnson and Ron Marshall voted to seek out the possible ballot language, while members Bill Atkins and Tom Postelnick opposed the motion.
“In terms of a charter amendment, I was told (by city legal counsel) that council has the ability to put the matter out for a public vote if the council so chooses by majority,” Pall said.
Pall recently shared the idea of lengthening officeholder term lengths with others on the council. Pall’s proposal was to explore extension of the mayor’s term from one year to two in the future, and council members’ terms from two years to three, and to put the matter on the ballot for voters’ consideration in the November 2012 general election.
If the change ultimately is made in term lengths, it would not affect the terms currently being served by city elected officials, or those which recently elected officeholders will begin in January.
Johnson also said he’d be willing to consider this set of proposed term lengths further. Marshall offered a different variation to consider — extending the mayoral term to three years, and keeping the council member terms at two years — and the council ultimately decided to seek out ballot-language options for both of these.
As mayor, Pall has said he has fielded multiple complaints and questions about why the mayoral term of office is so short at one year. He added that the limited duration also gives little time to get up to speed with local government operations before making a re-election bid if the mayor desires, and that the cost for pursuing repeated re-election campaigns can be significant relative to the pay the mayor receives — with campaigns for that office typically running about $3,000, compared to yearly pay of $750.
At the same time, Pall said he recognized that keeping terms relatively short potentially can make officeholders more responsive to constituents. Pall noted that staggering terms so that all city officeholders aren’t up for election at the same time can allow for smooth transitions of power and continuity of policy, and that his proposal would allow this to continue.
When offices turn over after short terms, Johnson noted that it presents work for city staff to help familiarize the new officeholders with local government operations.
“These short terms make it difficult, more difficult for your staff, and it makes it difficult to carry through with things that have already been decided upon,” he said.
Marshall noted some similar concerns to Pall’s about the short mayoral term length, but said that his alternative — moving the mayor’s term length to three years and keeping council members’ at two — would provide citizens with the opportunity to replace at least two, and possibly three, elected officeholders in a given election, promoting responsiveness.
Atkins and Postelnick noted that they’d be willing to discuss the matter further, but wanted to get more people involved in considering the idea before working on possible ballot language.
Atkins said he’d like to see the matter taken up by next year’s council membership, and that he’d like to see a committee of community leaders and council representatives appointed to study the matter and make recommendations.
In other business
At Monday’s meeting, the Petoskey City Council :
— approved a list of proposed special assessments on downtown property to support business-district programs and services in 2012. These assessments are to be collected using the same per-square-foot rates used for 2011, and received no public input during a hearing Monday
— approved a sale of some timber on city-owned land in Bear Creek Township to Precision Forestry of Onaway in the amount of $36,027
— began consideration of a proposal to make some changes in city policy — recently offered on a trial basis — permanent. These involve added flexibility for some types of downtown businesses to display sandwich board signs, and would require action at a future meeting to be made permanent
— continued discussion of the city’s proposed 2012 budget, and made plans for more discussion at the regular council meeting on Dec. 5. A public hearing on the budget proposal took place Monday, but no public input was offered.