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Bronson charter up for review

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Bronson officials will be looking at making some changes in how the town does business.

Council members and staff have been talking publicly about updating the town’s charter since last year, and all agreed back then that the subject would be one of the first issues hammered out at the start of the New Year.

Monday night, in the first council meeting of 2014, staff and council held to that agreement, scheduling the first of what could be a lengthy series of public workshops to potentially change the rules that define the town. The meeting was set for Monday, Jan. 13, at 5 p.m. in Town Hall.

Municipal charters are granted authority by the state, which is also obliged to enforce the rules of that charter and can revoke it if said rules are not abided by. Amendments to a charter have to be voted on by the public.

Town Clerk Kelli Brettel, who has, preliminarily, been working with other staff members on the charter, said the workshops would be the council’s time to weigh in on what needs to be added or left alone. She suggested the council meet on one or two sections of the 36-section charter at each workshop in order to thoroughly cover each one.

“If some have to go to referendum … then we’ll do that,” she said.

But it’s clear at least one item will have to be voted on in a referendum — at some point — according to statements made by council and staff last year. And that item has to do with including early elections into a section of the charter. Council members Berlon Weeks and Jason Kennedy, the latter of whom stepped down in the last election, wanted the issue to be placed on last year’s ballot, but the issue was twice voted down. 

But Weeks lobbied members of the community and got enough signatures of support to have it come up for a vote by the public. The other council members didn’t want it placed on last year’s election ballot, though they said it would be included with any other changes that might result from the charter update now being addressed.

Still, it’s conceivable that the issue of early voting could be further stalled if the council finds it has nothing in the old charter to amend, which would cancel the need to have a special election.

Monday night, Weeks, who has in the past also expressed concern about such things as the residency rules of council members, asked what determines whether or not certain changes get voted on publicly in a referendum.

Town Attorney Steven Warm said it’s complicated, though, he added, if a change is a charter amendment, and it’s officially titled a charter amendment, then it has to get voted on in an election. But some things can be altered through creating ordinances without making an official amendment, he said. Warm told Weeks he’d get back to the council with more information on how to distinguish between the two.

Weeks also said he wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the charter go back to its last “official” overhaul from 1971. He said he didn’t like that the charter was altered in 2007. “Things were taken out that shouldn’t have been,” he said.

Both Brettel and Council Member Bruce Greenlee said that matter, as well as other issues, could be addressed in the upcoming workshops.