DOVER — Officials have a lot of reading to do after Councilor Catherine Cheney presented a volume of potential changes to the City Charter during a workshop Wednesday night.
While most of the changes were cosmetic or grammatical, Chaney, who was appointed the Charter Champion, stressed that officials must openly discuss the issues with content as part of the authentication process, which hasn’t been done in decades even though numerous official changes were made by the city.
“Our Charter is so important that every word means something,” Cheney said, adding that it’s essential that the city maintain one official Charter approved by the Council.
After she reviewed the history of the City Charter, which comes from the 1972 edition — even though information from previous copies were referenced — Cheney said she would present the changes to fellow officials to review and eventually discuss before approving.
“The last time the City Charter was authenticated by the City Council was 1977,” Cheney said, adding all changes to the Charter since that time have not been authenticated, which is what the Council was doing now.
“Finally, it is stated by the Charter Commission that only the people may change the Charter,” Cheney said, adding this is protected by the State Constitution.
Cheney said, to date, there have been seven different versions of the Charter, especially her favorite from 1989.
“When you change the Charter, you change it a page at a time,” Cheney said, adding this ensures the document remains protected, is not renumbered or improperly indented and the city retains “version control.”
Chaney said the Charter was amended twice in 2007 to include an at-large school board and tax cap. She added it was again changed in 2011 for redistricting and to change to property tax levy.
“We are out of balance so we have to fix this before we fix the Charter,” Cheney said, adding the Council must restore the integrity of the Charter
As an example, Cheney noted how Article IV - Boards and Commissions was removed from the Administrative Code and moved to another location by the Council, which she believes, betrayed the intent of the Charter and is on the verge of betraying the people’s trust.
“We won’t get much done until we straighten this out,” Cheney said, adding this process must be done transparently because the document belongs to the people.
As Mayor Dean Trefethan was absent, Deputy Mayor Robert Carrier, insisted City Manager Michael Joyal address any discrepancies to the Charter.
Joyal said the change was made because boards and commissions are not under the purview of the city manager.
“The administrative code is not part of the City Charter,” Joyal said, adding the state requires the city to have one, but it does not need to be in the Charter by law.
Joyal said the administrative code must be approved by the City Council.
Cheney argued that, as the code was referred to in the 1977 Charter, it should be protected with the rest of the document.
“The citizens have the final say and the final vote,” Joyal said, adding once approved, the official Charter the City Clerk is responsible for its “maintenance, care and reproduction,” as voted for by the people.
Joyal said none of the members of the Council, the City Manager’s Office or the City Attorney are allowed to change the Charter. He added that copies of the authentic document can be distributed to departments and officials.
“Clearly we have some issues since 1977 and that is what we have to clear up,” Joyal said, adding he will defer to Cheney’s proposals to unifying the format.
For more information about the Charter, visit the city’s website at www.ci.dover.nh.us/.
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John Quinn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.