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Elkins to put city manager on election ballot

ELKINS — Elkins City Council approved an updated city charter on second reading Thursday evening, and voted to place on the March municipal ballot three proposals stricken from the charter changes — including the creation of a city manager position.

Three controversial proposed changes — the creation of a city manager position; increasing the mayor’s term of office from two to four years; and allowing all city voters to vote for council representatives for each ward in the city — were among the items taken out of the updated charter voted on Thursday, because qualified objections to them had been raised by several residents, including three current council members.

The updated charter was approved 9-1 in Thursday’s vote, with Third Ward Councilman Carman Metheny casting the only vote in opposition. The changes will not go into effect until April 1 at the earliest, officials have said.

After the vote, Second Ward Councilman Charlie Friddle made a motion to place three of the stricken proposed charter changes on the March ballot to be voted on by the public. The changes include the move to a manager/mayor form of government, which includes the creation of a city manager position; defining the duties of the city manager; and increasing the mayor’s term from two years to four.

First Ward Councilman Rob Chenoweth asked that the city manager proposals and the mayor’s term proposal be separated into two motions to be voted on by council.

“I guess my thought with respect to … the mayor/manager plan changes, is that the analysis we should really do to decide whether that should be on the ballot is whether that has a shot at passing in the March 2 election. In my opinion, it doesn’t, and it would be a waste of resources to put it out there and try to get it passed,” Chenoweth said.

“Based on discussions I’ve had with people — this has been a long process and I’ve talked with a lot of people — I think the chances of the mayor/manager plan actually being adopted by the citizens is slim to none,” Chenoweth said. “I think the reason for that is that, it would be this major change in our city government during a pandemic. People suspect that, and say ‘Why are you doing that at this very challenging time?’

“The second reason is we haven’t really answered the basic questions of what are we going to do with the city manager, how are we paying them … what are we going to expect them to do, and what is their salary going to be. Are they going to have a secretary or are we going to hire a helper?

“The fact that we can’t answer those basic questions at this point makes it sort of an exercise in futility,” Chenoweth said.

Friddle responded by saying, “First let me say, number one, I totally disagree with Mr. Chenoweth’s analysis of whether or not we can get the city manager structure passed. I think the last four or five mayors have been very strongly in favor of that form of government. I think we have an in-depth analysis of why it’s necessary. And we are also outlining the duties of the city manager very clearly in Section 3.08 (which would be put on the March ballot).

“The argument about what we’re paying them and whether they’ll get a secretary and all that … No one on this council that I’m aware of has ever said ‘We’re gonna pay the city manager $100,000 a year.’ I don’t know where that came from,” Friddle said.

During the Aug. 21 Elkins City Council meeting, Tim Stranko, the attorney council hired to lead them through the charter change update process, provided council information which stated, “A review of all West Virginia cities employing a city manager shows that these cities dedicate between 2% and 4% of annual revenue to the city manager function. The annual salary range of these employees is between $75,000 – $130,000.”

Friddle then said, “I am not willing to separate those two issues in my motion.” His motion then came to a roll call vote, and was approved by a vote of 6-4.

Voting yes were Friddle, First Ward’s Judy Guye, Second Ward’s Mike Hinchman, Fourth Ward’s Marilynn Cuonzo and Karen Wilmoth, and Fifth Ward’s David Parker.

Voting against the motion were Chenoweth, Metheny, Third Ward’s Chris Lowther and Fifth Ward’s Linda Vest.

No one made a motion Thursday evening to place on the March ballot the proposed charter change that would allow all city voters to vote for council representatives for each ward in the city. Therefore that proposed change will now be considered abandoned.

The next city council meeting will be Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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