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Tabled ballot language in St. Clair to be clarified July 6

Jim Bloch — For BWHL Jim Downey, St. Clair city attorney.

By Jim Bloch

The St. Clair City Council failed to take action on June 21 to approve a resolution that contained ballot language for three separate proposals to be brought before voters at the Nov. 2 election.

The first one would ask voters if their council representatives should be required to live in the wards they represent.

The next two would ask voters to approve new sequencing in the city’s budgeting process. The first proposal would ask voters to change the deadline from March 1 to June 1 for city department heads to submit their budget requests to the city superintendent; it would also seek to move the deadline for superintendent’s completion of the budget — and his submittal of it to the council for review — from the first council meeting in May until the first meeting in August. The second budget proposal would request that the final adoption of the budget occur by Sept. 30, not June 15.

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In short, both amendments try to narrow seven-month gap between the start of the budget process and the beginning of the fiscal year, which is Oct. 1.

“The proposed resolution will put forward two questions, both of which would have to be adopted because they are interlinked,” said city attorney Jim Downey. “Both would have to be adopted in order for the charter to change.”

Resolution tabled

The problem arose with the ward residency language.

“I don’t like that we’d have to forfeit our seat if we move to a different ward,” said council member Mitch Kuffa — something Kuffa did twice when he represented the first ward. He now lives in first ward, but represents the third ward.

Kuffa argued that the rep who moved to another ward should be allowed to finish his or her term. But, if the person wanted to run again, it would have to be as rep of the person’s new ward.

“I think I agree with member Kuffa,” said council member Butch Kindsvater, who himself moved to the first ward while representing the third; he now represents the first ward.

City council member Bill Klieman pointed out that the council had already unanimously approved the identical residency language for the ballot on Nov. 2.

“Why is it back in front of council if it was already passed?” Klieman asked.

The council approved residency ballot language on Dec. 21. It was a surprising about-face. Two weeks earlier, three members of the council quashed a resolution that would have allowed the residents to vote on the issue; a super majority of five of the council’s seven members is necessary approve ballot language for charter changes: Three no votes temporarily doomed the ballot language even though four members voted yes.

Downey said he would sort out the issue and report back to council at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 6. It appeared likely that the issues of ward residency and the sequencing of the budget would appear in separate resolutions.

The ballot proposals appear under “unfinished business” on the July 6 agenda.

Background

“The first issue began three years ago in the summer of 2018 and concerns the issue of ward residency for members of city council,” said Downey.

The city charter does not require it, something former mayor and district court judge John Cummings said was an oversight in the rush to get the charter adopted in the late 1970s. Cummings died in 2019.

For decades, city officials assumed the charter required ward residency.

Regarding the budget issues, “Mr. Rothe has discussed this with council on several occasions,” said Downey. 

From Rothe’s point of view, the current charter deadlines for the new budget occur far too early in the fiscal year to be useful.

“If this resolution were to be adopted tonight, it would have to be passed onto the attorney general for clearance and approval before it can be put on the November ballot,” said Downey. “I’ve gotten preapproval from the attorney general on all three proposals so I’d anticipate we would get approval soon than later.”

Ballot language must be filed by July 27, said city clerk Annette Sturdy.

If the language on the residency proposal were to be tweaked, Downey was not sure he could get approval from the attorney general’s office in time to meet the deadline.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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