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Sistersville Council discuss charter change

By Staff | Mar 18, 2015

At a special meeting Saturday afternoon Sistersville City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an amendment to the city’s charter that would remove residency requirements and term limits for appointed officers.

Councilman Mark Klages proposed the change, noting he has been working on it with City Attorney Carolyn Flannery since September.

He proposed that the primary reason for the changes are to attract the best possible people for the jobs.

“Sistersville is not growing, we are not getting larger. There’s not a lot of experienced professionals moving into the town.” explained Klages. “I mean, I’ve lived here all my life, I love this town, but we are not a mecca for a whole bunch of experienced folks, so our pool of candidates for these appointed officers is shrinking and shrinking rapidly.

“If we are restricted to the residency requirements only, then chief (of police) is an issue. He is not a resident. He has 17 years of experience in that position. Do we just want to throw that away on a residency requirement that was built over 130 years ago?” Klages asked.

“I think we need to expand and eliminate the residency restriction. Maybe there is someone who lives across the river, or maybe there is someone who lives 20 miles down the road who wants to put in an application to be a city recorder,” said Klages. “If they have the experience, why wouldn’t we welcome that? What about the people that live on the wrong side of the street? The street belongs to the city of Sistersville, but their front yard, they are not a resident.”

He gave his father as an example of such an arrangement. His father’s neighbors to the right and left are city residents, but he is not. “He doesn’t care,” added Klages. “He’s retired he’s okay with it. My point is, maybe there’s someone who lives outside of the city and we want to make sure they have that chance.”

The possibility to have a longer-term job would also entice more applicants, according to Klages.

“Do you really want to apply for a job where you have to please eight separate people every single year? There is no job security there. I think we will get a better pool of candidates,” said Klages. “Again, I think we will get better qualified candidates who have said, ‘I’ve done 30 years of business community. I’ve climbed the ladder, I’m tired of it, I want a job close to home-not necessarily in my hometown, but at least close to home-where I can bring my years of experience to the city of Sistersville.’ I think that’s the number one argument for removing term limits.”

Police Chief Rob Haught spoke on the matter, “As someone who this directly affects-over the years that was always the impediment for me as chief to move here, with the term limit. I had a home, which is now paid off but it was almost paid off at the time. To start over, to move here, to uproot my kids from school to come with an off-chance that I wouldn’t be re-appointed.”

He added, “The city has de-facto has been operating under the new language over the last 45 years. Ben (Placer) was the last police chief within the last 25 years who was actually a resident (of Sistersville). The last half dozen chiefs since I left have been non-residents.”

“Instead of being required to re-appoint them every year, they would be appointed to those positions.

It would basically become a full-time hired position even though it is an appointed officer,” explained Klages.

Another reason to remove the term limits is that Flannery doesn’t believe an appointee in a functional position could be removed without cause. “If it’s a functional position, then ultimately it falls under West Virginia labor laws and we have to have cause to remove that person,” said Klages. “We also have a responsibility, to re-appoint them at the end of the year if we do not have cause to remove them.”

A copy of the charter amendment will be posted in three locations in town and also printed in a newspaper for 30 days. A public reading of the amendment will be held at the next regular council meeting scheduled for April 13, 7 p.m., at the Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department. If council receives no written opposition within 30 days of Saturday’s meeting, then they are able to continue on with the charter change process. A second reading with passage will still be required.

“The good news is, this process is repealable. if a future council decides that this was a mistake, they just go through the same process. they can amend the charter again,” noted Klages.

In another matter, the city has two positions to fill: water clerk and city recorder/treasurer.

Appointments to those positions were delayed until the personnel committee can decided on suitable candidates.

Once they are suggested, council will make the final decision on who will fill the positions.

In the meantime, Kari Huffman has agreed stay on as recorder until a suitable replacement can be found. She had tendered her resignation on March 6 to be effective March 12.