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Commission approves fee-raising ordinance

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners approved the first reading of a charter ordinance that will raise municipal court fees in the near future.

But what is a charter ordinance?

How does it affect the general public?

City clerk Gary Fees said that a charter ordinance differs from a regular ordinance in three ways. A charter ordinance requires a super majority vote by the commission to be passed, meaning four out of five commissioners have to approve it. On Tuesday, all five commissioners approved the municipal court fee hike.

It also requires publication in the local paper for two consecutive weeks after the second reading. Fees said the second reading of the ordinance take place on Oct. 15.

Finally, once the ordinance passes the second reading, the public has 60 days to file a protest petition with the county clerk’s office to have the ordinance put on the next election ballot.

City Attorney Bill Raymond said during that 60-day period, citizens wishing to file a protest must write a petition, collect signatures from a minimum of 10 percent of registered voters, and submit the petition to the county clerk.

However, not any voter’s signature will work.

Only residents who voted in the last election can qualify. Petition signers also must be from inside the city of Manhattan, because the petition is challenging a city ordinance.

Once the signatures are gathered and before the deadline, the petition must be turned into the county clerk’s office for validation.

Raymond said the city does not provide any pre-formulated documents to help anyone create a petition. Citizens bear the responsibility of writing it on their own.

After verifying that any petition’s signatures meet the requirements, the county clerk would forward it to the county counselor, Clancy Holeman, who would review it to make sure the petition’s wording is valid.

Holeman said submitting a petition is similar to the process used by voters writing a charter ordinance and submitting it for a vote.

He said that a couple of years ago, a group wanting a defined portion of the city budget dedicated to social services tried to create a charter ordinance. However, the proposed ordinance did not reach the ballot stage because it was found to be invalid.

Should Holeman verify any petition, the ordinance would be put on the next election ballot to be approved or rejected by the voters, overriding any decision of the city commission.

Fees said very few ordinances passed by the commission are charter ordinances.  However, Raymond said the city has always passed municipal court fees as charter ordinances.

“The city likes to provide visibility, and has chosen to do it this way,” he said. “Not that every city does it.”

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