Government, News

Morgantown City Council fails to pass measure to change term limits

MORGANTOWN — The same 4-3 split that placed consideration of a special election regarding council term limits on Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council agenda has seemingly brought the issue to a grinding halt.

While a simple majority of council voted in favor of calling a special election on a potential change to the city’s charter doubling council terms to four years, the vote came after City Manager Paul Brake explained that such an action would require a two-thirds majority, or five of seven members in support.

Councilors Ron Dulaney, Mark Brazaitis and Barry Wendell — each of whom voted against moving this potential charter change forward   — voted against calling the special election, preventing the needed two-thirds tally.

Dulaney explained that he supports four-year terms, but only in conjunction with efforts to increase voter turnout, such as placement of the city’s election in line with the county.

Council did consider moving the city’s election, which is held the last Tuesday in April in odd-numbered years, in line with the county’s election schedule, as well as potentially staggering elections so that no more than four members were up at any given time. However, the 4-3 vote cast on March 6 selected a potential change focusing solely on term length.

Both Wendell and  Deputy Mayor Brazaitis reiterated their belief that the city’s standalone April election and council’s concurrent, two-year terms are not sufficiently in need of changing, particularly in light of the lukewarm feedback coming from city residents.

To that end, it was noted that the capacity crowd on hand to see proclamations handed out at the beginning of the meeting was down to a handful of regulars before discussion of the potential charter change rolled around.

“Every chair was full an hour ago,” Councilor Rachel Fetty said, admitting that while possible change to the city election is a longstanding issue for council and city administration, it doesn’t seem to move the needle much for the community at large.

Those who voted in favor of calling the special election said four-year terms are not only the norm among West Virginia’s larger municipalities, but also preferred by city administration as longer terms provide more continuity of leadership.

“We’re dealing with important issues, and these things take time,” Mayor Bill Kawecki said.

Had the issue passed on first reading, ballot language would have been presented to the Monongalia County Commission seeking placement on the county’s November ballot. Brake said council’s second reading would not have occurred until the first council meeting in October.

In other city news, members of the Morgantown Dive Team — comprised of city police and fire personnel — were presented with a plaque by Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher.

Fletcher explained that the dive team helped provide closure for a Hancock County family by spending three days locating a submerged vehicle and its deceased driver in 2016.

Council also:

Adopted on second reading the city’s $35.3 million general fund budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Adopted an overhaul of the city’s fee structures, bringing the fees up to date with common practices elsewhere.

Brake has explained the fee amounts have not changed since 2006.

Wore red neckties in recognition of Bleeding Disorder Awareness Month.