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Mayor AJ Hashmi has signaled his intent to call for a special election in November to amend Section 23 of the Paris City Charter, which bars council members from interfering with the city manager’s appointment or removal of city personnel.
“For hiring of department heads, the council has to approve. But, the termination of department heads, the council does not have to approve,” the mayor said during last Monday’s council meeting. “My suggestion is that the hiring and firing of department heads needs to be approved by the council.”
Routinely on the agenda of each regular meeting of the council is an item about possible changes to the charter.
On Monday night, when the council came to that item: “Discuss possible charter amendments and provide direction to staff,” Hashmi turned to City Clerk Janice Ellis.
“Throughout the year, we have come up with various lists of things that we have requested. I would like to hear that list,” Hashmi said.
Ellis said a couple of the items on the list include:
“Anything else?” Ellis asked.
“There was one other thing,” Hashmi said: The city manager should be required to get council approval not only on the hiring but on the termination of a department head.
Here is the Charter provision in question:
Section 23: Council not to interfere in appointments or removals.
Neither the council nor any of its members shall direct the city manager or any of his subordinates in the appointment or removal of any city employee; provided, however that the appointment of department heads shall be subject to the approval of the council.
Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with city employees solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the city manager, either publicly or privately.
It shall be grounds for removal from office if, following investigation by and a hearing before the council, a council member is found guilty of multiple, willful violations of this section.
Hashmi would change the last half of the first paragraph to read: “provided, however, that the appointment and removal of department heads shall be subject to the approval of the council.”
“Anything else we are forgetting on this?” he asked.
A city, county or school is permitted to have elections only twice a year – in November and May.
Because the state requires that any elections be “set” at least 62 days before the election, Ellis said the council must call the election no later than its next regular meeting on Aug. 26.
“Let’s add it to the agenda where we are doing the budget workshop (on Tuesday, Aug. 20),” Hashmi said.
“Let’s do this. All of us think of what Charter amendments we want, and then we can discuss what we want and what we don’t want,” the mayor said. “And whatever we jointly agree on that should be a Charter amendment, we bring it on. If not, we will not.”
The Charter is to the City of Paris what the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are to the state and nation, respectively.
In 2006, the City Council appointed a 12-person committee to study the Charter, which was written in 1948, and make recommendations to bring it up to date. The committee recommended 70 changes, all of which won voter approval in May 2007 by approximately 90 percent.
In 2011, the council itself recommended another change, allowing council members to serve three consecutive 2-year terms rather than two consecutive terms. It also won voter approval by a comfortable margin.
State law requires the city to wait at least two years between Charter elections.
Additionally, the Charter requires:
“Not less than every five years, the city manager shall make recommendations to the city council regarding any proposal to amend the Charter that he concludes to be appropriate and in the best interest of the city.”
At Tuesday’s budget workshop and discussion about the Charter, the council will also receive presentations from more contractors, engineering firms, or consultants in regard to the city’s $45 million bond issue to replace the city’s deteriorating water and sewer lines.
At the end of Tuesday’s special meeting, an executive session has been scheduled for the second consecutive week “to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee as follows: city manager and interim city manager.”
There was no indication what that is about.
After last week’s executive session, the council praised Interim City Manager Gene Anderson for his work since he was appointed in June to assume the duties of City Manager John Godwin after he was hospitalized in June with a critical heart ailment. Godwin had received a Pacemaker earlier in 2013.
On July 2, Godwin successfully underwent an operation for a heart transplant and is reported improving daily while undergoing rehabilitation at Southwest Medical Center in Dallas.
The council approved last week an additional $1,250 a month for Anderson while he is doing both the work of city manager and his regular job of city finance director. The council also asked that Anderson plan to work for some period of time with Godwin even after he returns to work, until such time that it is clear that all medical issues are resolved.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra