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Bad Timing

No need to rush charter decisions

This week, Elkins city officials admitted the COVID-19 pandemic is making it difficult to perform normal governmental duties.

Which begs the question, why are Elkins officials considering changing the city’s form of government in the midst of this pandemic?

Thursday’s Elkins City Council Rules and Ordinance Committee meeting was plagued by audio issues. Committee members and administrative officers attended the meeting in person, while the press and members of the public had to attend virtually through the Zoom platform online.

The audio issues, which prevented some comments by council members and public comment speakers from being heard, were so severe that Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton apologized afterward.

“I want to apologize for the technical issues that plagued the R&O meeting today,” Sutton said in a statement released to The Inter-Mountain Thursday afternoon. “… Please be assured that we continually evaluate the best way to move city business forward, while keeping all participants safe and adhering to the Open Meetings Act. I anticipate some changes in our methods prior to the next public meeting.”

Later Thursday afternoon, the city announced it will return to in-person meetings effective immediately.

“Council members have made clear that they feel they cannot deliberate effectively unless they are in the same room together,” Sutton said. “We haven’t found a workable way to enable that while also broadcasting the meetings audibly for the public, so there is no way forward but to return to fully in-person meetings as soon as possible.”

City officials are currently in the process of looking at proposed changes to the city’s charter, including possibly creating a city manager position, and possibly changing both the number of city council members and how they are elected.

With the many technical and safety problems presented by having public meetings during the pandemic, residents are unable to take part in this process to the extent that they need to be involved. And with the public focused on COVID-19 difficulties and the upcoming general election, this is a poor time to propose huge, sweeping changes to city government.

A petition has been presented to city council asking that any proposed changes to the city charter be put to a vote by city residents, and not be determined by a vote of council members.

An Inter-Mountain poll on Sept. 2 found that 56% of responders opposed changing the city’s charter.

We acknowledge that the charter, which dates to 1901, is in need of some updates. However, any decisions on changing the style of city government or the makeup of city council should be postponed until the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, and residents are able to be involved in the decision-making process and give the issue the attention it deserves.

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