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Charter denies Sistersville council a change of venue

By Staff | Oct 23, 2013

NEW VENUE DESIRED-- Some Sistersville residents would like council meetings changed to the Sistersville Fire Hall (pictured above) to provide more space and better accessibility, even if that means making an amendment to the current charter.

Mayor Ann Doig said at the Oct. 15 Sistersville Council meeting that holding their meetings at a location other than City Hall is in violation of the current city charter.

This revelation came about following an inquiry from resident Valerie Jones.

“Has the council ever realized that this town does not fit the category of handicap accessible?” asked Jones. “Where do you come into this meeting if you’re in a wheelchair?”

Former mayor and current Councilman Bill Rice stated that, in the past, they would accommodate those who have trouble entering City Hall by moving meetings to the fire hall, as long as people provided enough advance notice for them to post the location change.

“That’s one of the things I wanted to bring up tonight,” he said. “We need to move the council meetings to the fire hall. It’s not right for people to come in here and stand.”

“We’re going to have to change our charter,” said Mayor Doig. “The charter clearly states that all city council meetings are to be held in City Hall on the second Monday of the month at seven o’clock.”

When asked later by the Tyler Star News about the specific section to which she was referring, Mayor Doig furnished an article from the 1991 charter kept in City Hall.

That section reads:

The regular meetings of Council shall be held at the Council Chamber, in the City Building, on the second Monday of each month, beginning, unless otherwise provided by resolution of Council, at 7:00 p.m. (Passed 12-1-47)

Mayor Doig interpreted that only the time of the meeting can be changed.

When asked by the Star News if she knew how the referenced section might affect the events of the Sept. 9 meeting, when she was voted in as the new mayor, Doig said she did not know.

For the past few months, since the residency of former Mayor Dave Fox was called into question, Sistersville residents have been consulting what they believed to be the current charter on the Secretary of State’s website. They believed that charter to be from 1958. That charter allows council to decide when and where meetings are held.

When asked, Mayor Doig did not know how an amendment made in 1947 was removed from the presumed 1958 charter and then returned to the 1991 charter, still stating that it was passed in 1947 rather than 1991, when it would have been seen as a new amendment. She was not present in city government affairs at that time.

At the meeting, when Councilman Rice recommended changing the rule so council could meet at other locations, resident Beri Fox readdressed concerns she had about the online charter at last month’s meeting.

Her concerns regarded outdated sections, particularly one stating that women cannot vote. Although that section is made invalid by the 19th Amendment, Fox would still like such ordinances updated.

“You can’t change one part and not change the rest,” she said.

“You can make changes to your charter, and you put them in the book,” answered Councilman Rice.

“What I recommended was an amendment just like you want tonight,” said Fox. “I just think if we’re going to do one, let’s take it into consideration and do all. Let’s correct the things that need to be corrected.”

“I agree with you,” he said.

In other news, council moved to accept the resignation of Third Ward Representative Jason Hood.

When Mayor Doig said that Third Ward residents Mark Klages and Phil Konopacky have expressed interest in the seats, questions came about regarding how council made the public aware of vacancies.

City Attorney Carolyn Flannery indicated charter rules.

“The only thing your ordinance says is that council will fill the vacancy,” said Flannery, explaining that council had a lot of options. “It’s really up to council.”

Beri Fox suggested that they should wait before appointing anyone because the public at large was not yet aware of the newly open seat.

“I think that would be better,” said Mayor Doig. “It would give the public more of an opportunity.”

Councilman Rice suggested that, because the public was already aware of one vacant seat for a month, and because Klages expressed interest in filling it, they should hold a vote. He said they could then wait 30 days to vote for the seat left open by Hood.

Fox said she would like council to develop a protocol that citizens could easily follow. She explained that her opinion had nothing to do with Klages and she simply wanted a standard procedure put in place.

Those interested in filling the seats can call City Hall at 304-653-6361 and ask to be considered. They can also reach the city through email at cityofsistersville@gmail.com.

Mayor Doig wanted to table the filling of council seats, but Councilman Rice stated he wanted to take action on filling her former seat, which resident Klages expressed interest in following last month’s meeting.

“This man asked to be on council a month ago,” he said. “He should get a chance to fill it. I make a motion that we put Klages on the Third Ward seat vacated by Ann.”

No one on council seconded his motion, so it did not go to a vote.

Klages went on the record with what he said he had been told.

“For the record, I did come in here (City Hall) the day afterwards,” he said. “I was told that (Recorder) Julie (Schleier) and (Water Clerk) Janice (Albright) were working through the process and would have it within two weeks. We are still waiting for that process.”

“What process are we talking about?” asked Recorder Schleier.

“For either electing or appointing to the open seat,” he said.

“Who told you that?” she asked.

“Janice,” he said.

“I’ll check with Janice,” said Schleier.

During her statement, Mayor Doig said she has been receiving questions concerning city finances. She said that those with questions regarding city finances can be asked of Recorder Schleier.

Also regarding city funds, council approved Recorder Schleier to pay for utility bills up to roughly $12,000 without having to receive approval at meetings. The reason cited for this was to prevent the city from paying penalty charges for bills with payment deadlines that fall between meetings.