Huntington Council Unanimously Passes Charter Amendments which Go to November Vote

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Police honored for Drug Operation
Police honored for Drug Operation

Huntington City Council on Monday night , Aug. 11, unanimously sent to the voters the four proposed Charter amendments.

The amendments amount, as described, to wording tweaks to add flexibility to the literal interpretation.

Voters will decide whether to: (1) Allow 120 rather 60 days to fill charter mandated positions; (2) allow the discretion of having a Public Works Director without a civil engineering degree; (3) provide flexibility for the city garage and motor pool; and (4) rename the Director of Finance & Administration as a "city manager."

One of the 1986 Charter Committee's original members, Tom McCallister, objected to any/all changes. He earlier indicated he will abide by the will of the voters, but questioned whether items had been previously proposed and rejected. When Chairman Mark Bates asked about specifics, McCallister could not provide any on his reference to prior ballots.

The proposal on the Public Works Director does not remove the engineering degree; it makes it discretionary. As McCallister pointed out, former Mayor Kim Wolfe did have some offers from people with engineering degrees but did not want to select them. He eventually selected and council approved current Public Works Director, James Hagley.

At the work session, Mayor Steve Williams explained that the mandatory degree requirement fails to ensure the candidate has sufficient managerial experience and talent.

McCallister remained insistent that the unfilled Director of Finance and Administration is controlled by the charter. City Attorney Scott McClure previously explained the position is a "will and pleasure" appointment of the Mayor and not bound by charter requirements. He invited anyone in disagreement to request a declaratory judgment from the circuit court. In addition, the current mayor previously held the position of "city manager" and has extensive experience in banking and finance.

Tom McCallister speaks to council
Tom McCallister speaks to council

Although McCallister indicated that the minutes of the writers literal intentions exist, they have not been presented to either the City Attorney, the Mayor, or any council member.

The administration has explained that the "search" time for a critical position usually consumes more than 60 days. Previously, Williams appointed interim police chief , Jim Johnson, as police chief to comply with the charter. Johnson does not want to be included in the candidates for a permanent replacement for Skip Holbrook.

On other matters, council approved the annual purchase of rock salt for $99.66 per ton (up from $43.51 per tone) which will be absorbed by the Public Works budget.

First phase construction of the Harris River front Skate Park has been approved, too. The first portion of the project should be completed by year's end.

Council member Scott Caserta called the project "the longest pursuit of an ordinance" in which he has participated. He added that skaters of all ages from teens to adults (including himself) will benefit from the park. Still as councilwoman Sandra Clements and Caserta agreed, "Let's do it for the kids." Future phases will increase in skating difficulty level.

Council has approved the purchase of the former S.S. Logan Building by the Huntington Sanitary Board/Water Quality Board for $399,900. Executive director Lou Akers indicated the move will save the newly consolidated departments about $55,000 a year. The new sprinkled structure includes interior garage space for vehicles.

Other approved items include the purchase of 20 tasers by the Huntington Police Department ($24,232), a maintenance truck for the Huntington Fire Department, and a grant for HPD to hire a civilian forensic investigator to handle untested sex crime kits.

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