Editorial: The right answers on charter changing

Published 9:50 am Friday, May 13, 2011

There was some confusion over the city charter last week and this week. We hope to provide some clarification below.

The editorial the Tribune had on Monday was good in that it sharpened many people’s interest — including members of the Charter Commission and city staff — in finding what proper procedures were needed to amend the charter. But the editorial also was in error for its description of procedures.

To clarify, the Charter Commission is not the same as other city panels and boards. It is set up by state law and members appointed by district court. It principally operates under mandates set in Chapter 410 of Minnesota law, not by Section 2 of the Albert Lea charter.

Email newsletter signup

Under Minnesota law, there are three ways to amend a city charter for Albert Lea and similarly structured cities. All three are geared to make sure the city residents have a say.

• The people can submit a petition signed by registered voters. Petitioners would need 5 percent of the votes cast in city during the last state general election. Once it is certified as valid, if the Charter Commission isn’t slated to meet, it must convene. It can adjust the proposed amendment for substance and form, but as long as the proposal doesn’t violate state law, it must go to the voters. Neither the Charter Commission nor the City Council can stop it. The council does set the election date.

• A member of the Charter Commission can propose an amendment. If the commission approves, it goes to the City Council. If the council approves it unanimously, it would go into effect 90 days after legal publication. However, a valid petition drive within 60 days of that publication can halt the amendment, sending it to the voters for approval at an election.

• The City Council can pass an ordinance to request the Charter Commission to amend the charter. The commission can accept, reject or change the proposed amendment. Then it would go before the voters for approval.

There are more laws regarding certain situations that could come up in all three methods; however, this summary covers most of what people need to know as the Albert Lea Charter Commission handles the matter of mayoral terms. So far, there has been no petition, no council resolution and no proposal from a Charter Commission member. One of those three will be needed should the Charter Commission be able to move forward on the matter.

The Albert Lea Charter Commission meets again June 6 at City Hall to return to the issue of mayoral terms. We urge the people of Albert Lea to attend because, clearly, the charter is meant to be the people’s document.