Huntington’s Council Charter Committee Adds Recommendation to Lengthen Executive Search Time from 60 to 120 Days

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor

Cleaning up  City Charter language has gained a favorable recommendation to the full council following a meeting of council’s charter review committee.

The proposals are: Eliminate the civil engineer degree requirement from the Public Works Director; modify language pertaining to the Central Garage and Motor Pool;  and (introduced at  the Monday, July 22 meeting) extend the time to fill positions from 60 to 120 days.

However, the title change of Director of Finance & Administration (DoFA) still creates “apprehension” in the words of councilman Scott Caserta. He along with councilman David Ball asked that of the now four change proposals the DoFA to “city manager” (or an alternative such as operations manager ) be last on the November ballot.

Presenting the proposed charter changes to the voters does not foster opposition from Tom McCallister, a former council member who helped draft the charter. The often  argumentative McCallister objects that neither the current administration , previous administrations, and current and previous councils have strictly enforced the charter, as written.

Voters in 2012 abolished the residency requirement. McCallister complained for years that it was not enforced. Once “voters speak, so be it,” he said.

For instance, the administration and council have proposed modifications in the central garage and motor pool requirement.

McCallister objects to vehicles driven outside the city limits without prior approval of council. That’s how the current charter reads, he said.  Under this interpretation, council would have to grant permission every time a vehicle travels outside the city limits.

As one example of a past misuse of a vehicle, he told HNN of a former employee who drove his assigned city vehicle daily taking his wife to work in Kentucky, picking her up for lunch, and bring her home in the evening. “That’s about 200 miles daily on the car,” the former councilman recalled.

Technology , such as GPS, would remedy such a violation. But, McCallister adamantly asserted that council would , for instance, have to approve driving a city vehicle to a conference or to a Charleston, WV legislative session.  

When asked whether as written the charter requirements contemplate measures to enforce residency requirements, the vocal former councilman said, “the charter speaks separately about garage, motor pool and assignment of cars [to be take home] by city council.”

At the charter committee Monday , Williams and council agreed to recommend new charter language reflecting that the city’s fleet and garage would be managed and controlled by the latest technology and the “rules” would be determined by whomever happens to hold the mayor’s position. Neither the motor pool or city garage would have a centralized charter mandate to preserve flexibility and economics.

While many council committee members had concerns over the director of finance and administration title alteration, McCallister objected to the city’s current lack of a DoFA.

Brandi Jacobs-Jones resigned effective April 30. The Mayor has taken on her duties without appointing an interim representative, a decision which appears in the city’s best interest by saving salary and benefits for the unfilled position.

The Williams administration --- and the council committee --- agreed that the charter specified time to fill executive positions should be sent to the voters with a proposed extension from 60 to 120 days, reflecting the intricacies of nationwide searches, background checks, and the selected candidate giving their current employer 30 days notice.

But, McCallister stresses that without an appointment within 60 days both the current mayor and council fall out of compliance with the current charter conditions.

Many individuals complain about laws and rules left on the books. Many are simply not enforced. For instance, WV still has a civil remedy for “criminal conversation,” which is translated adultery between an unmarried man and woman. A token fine exists at last check of the statute.

The combative anchor for strict charter wording enforcement opines that , like other continuing and past charter violations, either the then mayor and council should have faced a penalty for noncompliance. McCallister often repeats and repeats these challenges during Good and Welfare.

However, the 60 day rule did prompt Mayor Williams to find a way to comply, yet allow the police chief nationwide search committee to have time for due diligence. Interim Chief Jimmy Johnson accepted the title of chief with an understanding --- he does not want the position long term; he wants to return as the constituency services liaison.

Calling the executive changeover time frame “precarious” and requiring “consistency” of leadership to prevent “an environment of instability,” the Mayor indicated 120 days would be sufficient in today’s environment to secure a strong replacement without what he called “shenanigans"  to achieve charter compliance.

His conclusion expressed  a viewpoint that the “interim” is limited to 60 days after which another interim must be selected, if a permanent replacement is not found. The Wolfe administration utilized a series of “interim” fire chiefs following the resignation of Greg Fuller. McCallister believes that approach also sidestepped the charter requirement, too.

Mayor Williams hinted he was “still looking” for the right person. Council vice chairman Caserta  stated “we need enough time for due diligence and to get it right.”

Councilman Ball agreed that to keep the ship from “going astray” , more time is needed for appointments.

The matter will be presented as a recommended ordinance to the full council.

Still, McCallister will not be pleased. The committee and even the full council may approve sending the proposed change to the voters. He asks, what about the period before voter approval or non-approval? As the charter reads, the city will continue violating the current charter and ordinances, during the time the matters are placed on the ballot.

Thus, are these charter compliance violations of no consequence, since council will not enforce any penalty? Does those choices have members violating their oath of office? Are the items complained about already obsolete so it’s no big deal i.e. long antiquated and long non-enforced that flexibility despite “shall” is presumed granted by non-action?

Meantime, if the proposals go on the ballot in November, McCallister will only continue his war of words until the voters speak. He will abide by their decision. That’s how the charter reads.

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