February 1, 2014

Eufaula to weigh leader switch

Council to consider ballot to change form of city government

February 1, 2014 By D.E. Smoot Phoenix Staff Writer

Eufaula’s elected leaders will debate on Monday the merits of letting voters decide whether to change the city’s form of government.

The city operates under the statutory provisions for an aldermanic form of government. The governing body consists of a mayor who is elected at-large and two councilors elected from each of Eufaula’s four wards, with the mayor serving as the chief executive.

A group of residents and business owners pushing for change wants to switch to a council-manager form of government. State law provides the council would be made up of a representative elected from each ward and one member elected at-large. They would elect from among themselves a mayor and vice mayor, but a city manager would be hired to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations.

Discussions about a potential change to the city’s form of government began after a representative of the City Management Association of Oklahoma made an appearance before the City Council. His presentation sparked some interest, prompting city leaders to schedule a public forum to further discuss the issue.

A winter storm in early December forced the cancellation of the town hall meeting scheduled to discuss the pros and cons of changing the city government. Organizers rescheduled the town hall meeting for Feb. 10, but Ward IV Councilor Floyd Smith pushed to have the measure put on the agenda for the City Council’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Mayor Selina Jayne-Dornan said while she believes residents have a right to choose the form of government they want, she thinks councilors may be “jumping ahead” of the facts. She said it might be better to conduct the town hall meeting before deciding whether to schedule an election.

“From what I am picking up, they feel the citizens have a right to decide this,” Jayne-Dornan said about the city councilors who want to consider the ballot initiative. “I work for the people, so whatever they want I am going to support it. I just want them to be educated about the issue.”

Smith said he has yet to publicly stake out his position on the issue, but he believes “the citizens have a right to vote on it.” He said he could think of no reason why he and his colleagues should wait to debate the question of putting the issue before the voters.

“We have had citizens express a desire to have that form of government, and so it should be up to them,” said Smith, who is getting ready to begin the third year of his first four-year term. “I don’t see any reason to wait — just so they (voters) have the information before the election.”

If councilors approve the ballot initiative, it would be presented to voters during the June 24 primary election scheduled for county and state races. Smith said he would argue in support of a June 24 election.

Those who support a change to the statutory council-manager form of government cite continuity, specialized skills as reasons to support a decision to hire a city manager. They say a city manager could oversee city operations without being influenced by politics.

Jayne-Dornan said the turnover rate of about four years for city managers defeats arguments about continuity and said the learning curve would be the same for a new mayor as it would a new chief administrator. The mayor also said the cost of hiring a city manager likely would come at the expense of cutting workers who ensure services are being provided.

City councilors will take up the issue when they meet at 5 p.m. Monday during a regular meeting at the Eufaula Readiness Center, 48 Memorial Drive.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go

WHAT: Eufaula City Council meeting.

WHEN: 5 p.m. Monday.

WHERE: Conference Room, Eufaula Readiness Center, 48 Memorial Drive.

INFORMATION: Consider the scheduling of a June 24 election to decide whether the municipal form of government should be changed.

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