MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 4, 2014

Eufaula system to go before voters

June ballot will determine form of city government

Eufaula voters will decide in June whether they want to change their municipal form of government, but the immediate focus will be on public awareness and citizen education.

City councilors voted unanimously Monday to schedule the June 24 election after little discussion about the merits of hiring a city manager to oversee day-to-day operations. Most of the discussion among city councilors and citizen comments centered on giving voters the power to decide the issue.

“The feeling I got from the councilmen is the people deserve the right to vote and make that decision on their own,” Mayor Selina Jayne-Dornan said. “I agree: People have the right to make this decision on their own. I work for the people, and whatever they want, I am going to support.”

The city of Eufaula presently 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. The mayor serves as the city’s chief executive.

A group of residents and business owners, however, wants to switch to a council-manager form of government. State law provides the council under that system would be made up of a representative elected from each ward and one member elected at-large.

Councilors under the council-manager system would then elect from among themselves a vice mayor and mayor, who primarily would serve in a ceremonial capacity. Councilors would appoint a city manager to perform the tasks performed by the mayor pursuant to the aldermanic form of government.

A survey conducted by the National League of Cities shows the council-manager form of government is the most popular, especially among municipalities with populations of more than 10,000 residents. The mayor-council system — similar to the aldermanic form — is the second most popular and employed primarily by older, large cities or small communities.

Discussions about a potential change to Eufaula’s form of government began after a representative of the City Management Association of Oklahoma pitched the idea to city councilors. The idea resonated among some residents and business owners.

Karen Weldin, who owns a real estate company and a downtown store that features goods made in Oklahoma, cited two advantages to hiring a city manager. First, is the person’s specialized training, education and skills. Second, is her belief that a city manager would stay above the fray of politics.

Weldin, who supports the proposed change, said she is pleased with city councilors’ decision to let voters decide the issue. But she agrees with the mayor that voters should “make an informed decision” when they cast ballots during the June 24 election.

“From this point forward, we are encouraging everybody to go the town hall meeting to start the educational process,” Weldin said about an upcoming informational meeting. “We need to keep people educated and aware so when they go vote they can make an informed decision.”

Jayne-Dornan said speakers scheduled for the town hall meeting will include representatives from the Oklahoma Municipal League, City Management Association of Oklahoma and possibly other mayors familiar with various forms of government.

The town hall meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the Eufaula High School auditorium.

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

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