Saline Charter Proposals Explained at Townhall Meeting


At a lightly attended town hall meeting Monday, City of Saline Manager Colleen O'Toole explained the proposed city charter amendments that will be on the ballots in the upcoming August and November elections.

In the August election, Saline City 1 Proposal is about residency requirements for election to council and to appointment to city committees and commissions. The charter dictates that individuals must be residents for two years before two years. The amendment would reduce the requirement to one year. In addition, the language in the charter will be changed so that it's gender-neutral.

O'Toole said the goal of the amendment is to "expand the ability of more residents to participate." In addition, O'Toole said, the amendment was driven by legal counsel.

"One year was viewed as more defensible than two years. There is case law on the subject regarding citizenship restrictions when it comes to elections," O'Toole said.

In addition, outdated language is being removed. For example, the charter says: All administrative and appointive officers shall be United States citizens and freeholders. A freeholder is a property owner. Requiring elected officials to own property violates the rights of leaseholders, according to a 1970 Supreme Court ruling.

"Freeholder, technically speaking, may be construed to not include people who are leaseholders within the city and that is not our intent," O'Toole said.

The amendment proposed for November would change the terms of city councillors from 2 to 4 years. Elections would take place every two years rather than every year.

Council has not yet approved ballot language term length question.

"There is a certain amount of cost savings by not having to run a local election every year," O'Toole said. "The city does have to incur the cost (of elections) if there is not a state or federal election for us to tack on to."

As currently proposed, the new rules would take effect in 2025 - so the first election would be a three-year term. After that, elections would be for four-year terms.

The ballot measures were recommended by a citizen-led working group which issued its report in September of 2023, O'Toole said. There are future changes expected to be on the ballot in 2025.

Councillor Dean Girbach was the city council's liaison to the working group. He said some of the language in the charter was inappropriate in 2024. He noted that someone challenged the residency requirements a couple of years ago.

"Two years would not have been upheld if it had gone to court," Girbach said.

Girbach explained why expanding terms from two to four years might be beneficial.

"Maybe more people would participate if they did not have to campaign every two years," Girbach said.

Councillor Jenn Harmount said that campaigning every four years instead of two years would save candidates money and time. She said eliminating off-year elections would save city staff time and resources.

City resident Hope Bernard said she was thankful the city was shifting towards gender-neutral language in the charter.

O'Toole encouraged people to contact the city clerk's office for absentee voting for the upcoming August vote.

Learn more about the Charter Working Group's recommendations here.

It appeared that only three residents not affiliated with the city government attended the town hall.

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