City to discuss extending term limits for council members

MORGANTOWN — A change to the city charter that would extend city council term limits and stagger council elections will be up for discussion at the upcoming Morgantown City Council Committee of the Whole meeting.

The agenda packet for the Jan. 30 meeting was posted Jan. 26.

The draft ordinance would make a handful of changes to the city charter, including doubling council’s two-year terms to four years.

The law would also stagger council elections.

It would do so by basically splitting council into two groups following the first municipal election after the charter changes are passed — presumably the city’s next election in April 2019.

The four candidates who receive the top four vote totals would be elected to a four-year term. The three remaining winning candidates would be elected to two-year terms.

From that election forward, all council members will be elected to four-year terms.

City Attorney Ryan Simonton said having that split determined by the voters is an effort to ensure that the candidates are all on equal footing as none of the seats will have been pre-selected for the longer terms.

The date of the elections will not change. It will still be the last Tuesday in April on odd-numbered years.

Council candidates will still need 75 nominating signatures from within the ward they hope to represent. The candidate in each ward to receive the most votes from city voters at large will be elected, just as they are now.

The draft law also stipulates that a council member cannot become ineligible for office during their term based on ward boundary changes passed by the city’s ward and boundary commission.

Lastly, terms for the members of the ward and boundary commission would be changed.

Currently, commission members are appointed no later than 30 days after a new council takes office, and they hold those seats until the term of the council member who appointed them is up.

Under the proposed law, a commissioner will be appointed no later than the last day of July in each odd-numbered year and serve until the last day of June in each odd-numbered year.

Should council opt to move the issue forward, it will go through the ordinance process — two readings and a public hearing — like any other law. However, if anyone comes forward to object, passage would require the backing of city voters on a ballot.

“There will be notice of a public hearing. If there’s an objection filed, then the council could either let it go or they could place it on the election,” Simonton said.