New, Consensus Charter Will Be Voted On In November Election

On the November ballot, voters will have a chance to approve a dramatically improved Charter to take the place of the old Charter. Three years ago, I was a member of the Charter Review Commission that suggested the vast majority of the changes. 

Every ten years, Lakewood’s charter mandates that a group of nine citizens appointed by Lakewood’s officials meet to review the charter and recommend changes to the charter. This is a provision built into the charter to see that mistakes are eliminated, and to see that it can adapt with the times or otherwise improve upon itself. A city’s charter is essentially its constitution. In conjunction with state law, it gives the legal format and basis for the rest of its governance; executive action, ordnances and resolutions.

The Charter Review Commission was a bipartisan group, diverse in its opinions. The members worked very well together in a give and take process, always with a mind toward creating the best document possible for the City of Lakewood. Chairperson Tom Brown and members Jay Carson, Steve Davis, Scott Kermode, Ed Monroe, Pam Smith, Allison Urbanek, and Tom Wagner, were all excellent components of the commission, which was ably assisted by charter staff Dr. Larry Keller and Law Director Kevin Butler. The commission met almost every week for nearly 6 months, and often brought work home. Our overarching philosophy during the process was to retain what made Lakewood great while increasing professionalism and to modernize the document. This process produced a recommendation for Lakewood’s Third Amended Charter.

There are a number of substantive improvements made to the Charter. First, the document was unnecessarily long and composed of overly legalistic language. Its organization was poor, with miscellaneous items listed toward the back of the document. One of the prime purposes in undertaking this process was to make the document more legible for Lakewood citizens, so that you don’t need to be an attorney to interpret them. Thus, the sentence and word count on the document dropped dramatically. Organization was improved, so that topics were generally organized according to relevant section.  Some sections were amended to reflect changes in general practice and in state law, so that our Charter is legally consistent with broader law. Along the lines of a more modern, readable document, sexist language was replaced with gender neutral language.

The most substantive changes in the document are likely the addition of the ethics and training provisions into the Charter. Lakewood should be a model to other cities. The ethics provision gives symbolic encouragement to adhere to ethical standards, and at least some practical means to do that. Persons convicted of crimes involving violations of public trust would not be eligible to serve Lakewood as elected officials. Our region has a history tainted by public corruption, and the Commission felt that Lakewood should make a statement that corruption should not be accepted in our city.

The training provision in particular, from all accounts, appears to be unique, at least for the region. This provision means that newly elected mayors or councilpersons must attend training to teach them of best practices as they enter their new job. It’s a way to stimulate good ideas and professionalism among those elected to represent Lakewood’s citizens.  Moreover, it could serve as a model to other municipalities. Word of these changes has spread, and I’ve been personally asked about them by residents of a nearby city who were interested in changing their Charter in a similar manner.

Along with the major provisions drafted by the Charter Review Commission, a few minor changes were added by City Council. Some of these were made upon the recommendation of the Board of Elections, in order comply with their rules. Another included offering means of service of notice for special council meetings to be by best means necessary, to reflect the modern preferability of emails, rather than mail.

Finally, the level of consensus surrounding this document is noteworthy. The members of the Commission worked together in a very collegial, give and take manner to craft its recommended Charter. The proposed Charter was approved by an 6 to 0 vote in City Council. At the Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting, it was unanimously approved by a body of over 20 members, again from a diverse, background. There was both Democratic and Republican representation on the Charter commission itself. And on that Commission, while it predated the Lakewood Hospital controversy, there were people who would later take both sides of the “Save” and “Build” debate for Lakewood Hospital. Similarly, in some or all of the other approving or endorsing bodies, both of these sides were represented, as well as numerous other issues that have provided local contention over the years. One thing all sides could agree on is that this Charter is a worthy step forward for Lakewood as a municipality and an example of good governance that should be approved in November.

Andrew Meyer

An attorney living and working in Lakewood with his wife, Harmony Hicks.

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Volume 13, Issue 19, Posted 5:13 PM, 10.03.2017