Sixteen Urbana residents gathered at the city building on Thursday for the first meeting of the 2019 Charter Review Committee, which will discuss possible additions, deletions or modifications to the city charter. Any proposed changes would appear on the primary or general election ballot of 2020.
At this initial meeting, City Law Director Mark Feinstein discussed the roles and objectives of the committee members and encouraged each person to take home and study a copy of the city charter in preparation for the next meeting.
In accordance with the city charter, a charter review committee must meet every 10 years, include at least nine members and represent all four of the city’s wards. Representatives of this year’s committee include Craig Evans, Audra Bean, Earl Evans (who has served on two previous charter review committees), Brandon Shockey, Lydia Hess, Michelle Heflin, Charles Moody, Addie King, Kim Gordon-Brooks, Al Evans, Stephanie Truelove, Justin Weller, Cassie Cress, Patrick Trenor, Amy Paul and Carrie Thomas.
“If we had sent out interview requests and we had requirements to put together a committee, I don’t think we could have done a better job than this group, because you’re a cross section from every end of the spectrum,” said Feinstein. “It sounds like we have some people with a lot of experience, we have some young people with probably some great ideas, so I think this is going to be a good committee. I don’t know who really understands the charter, but you’re going to find out that it’s essential to have a very good representation of the entire city in this committee because that charter is the blueprint for this entire community.
“The charter governs everything from the planning commission to the board of zoning appeals, and you 16 individuals have the power and the authority now to keep all of it or change all of it,” he added. “You as a group get to decide if you like the way it is or if you want to change it, and when I say ‘it,’ I mean everything. This is the document from which all ordinances are born. This is the document that gives power to the director of law, the director of finance, the director of administration, the mayor and to the council itself. So the body that passes legislation gets its authority from the charter, and you get to decide what you do and don’t want to keep in the charter.”
Feinstein said he is the facilitator for this committee at the request of council President Marty Hess, that his role is not to make decisions and that the committee can dismiss him at any time. Council Clerk Amy Deere attended to take notes, and the committee voted to retain her in that role and to be in charge of communications.
The committee determined to meet regularly for no longer than an hour and noted Wednesdays at 6 p.m. work for the majority of the committee members. All meetings are open to the public and audience participation is allowed.
“I would like to have the mayor be part of an interview process where we can find out from the mayor, or a mayor, or a former mayor, how the charter affected them and how they felt that maybe the charter inhibited them, or they used it to their advantage and used it well,” said committee member Al Evans. “I would like to have the whole group have input from a mayor to find out how the charter has affected their ability to serve as the mayor. I would like to also do the same thing with the council members, with the administrator, and with the president of the council, to find out how they use the charter to do their job and how the charter might have restricted them from doing their job.”
Feinstein recommended that the committee interview no more than two council members at a time to avoid violating open meeting rules. He also said that anyone the committee wanted to speak with would likely be honored to have their input valued.
The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will take place April 10 at 6 p.m. in the city building’s training room.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304