ELKINS, W.Va. – Elkins council has released a revised draft city charter and commenced the steps required for that draft to be eligible for adoption via ordinance in November, Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton announced Friday.
Under the plan released by the city clerk’s office, councilors will be able to adopt uncontroversial charter changes on November 19 while still leaving time to place disputed changes on the ballot for the March 2021 city election. The plan stated that the effective date of any charter amendments, whether adopted via ordinance or election, would be April 1, 2021.
“A city charter is the foundational document of a municipality,” explained Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “It lays out the structure, authorities, and basic operating rules of a city’s government. Here in Elkins, our charter hasn’t been updated since 1901, so it was time to take a look at what may need adapted to the times.”
According to Sutton, the charter-change process is permitted by W.Va. Code § 8-4-8 and now being followed by the council gives councilors needed flexibility while ensuring that the resources expended this year to research and recommend possible charter changes, including more than $10,000 in legal fees and hundreds of staff time hours—are not wasted.
“It’s up to city councilors to accept or reject whatever charter changes they see fit, but they can’t do that without releasing an official endorsed charter draft and following the steps laid out in state code,” says Sutton. “The draft we released today, which is based on direction provided by council at its last meeting, includes some items where council has reached consensus and other items that not everyone agrees with. The good thing about this process is that it enables council to easily make the changes everyone agrees with while still allowing the option of putting the remaining changes in the hands of voters.”
Significant changes proposed in the draft charter update include adopting what West Virginia state code calls the Manager-Mayor plan of government, extending the mayor’s term from two to four years, and shifting city elections from March to June (starting with the 2023 election). The update would not change either the number of or the required qualifications for council members but would allow voters to cast a ballot for every ward’s representatives, not just their own.
The process announced Thursday included a public hearing on November 9, when any qualified city voter or freeholder may enter objections concerning the proposed draft. This input opportunity is in addition to an in-person Q&A that was hosted by the council in early September, an online survey, and correspondence submitted to the clerk’s office.
According to city officials, qualified objections to the charter update submitted between Friday and the close of the hearing on November 9, if not withdrawn within 10 days after the hearing, would prevent the indicated charter changes from being adopted via ordinance. The council could then either place these changes on the March 2021 ballot or decide not to pursue them further.
Sutton explained that the adoption-via-ordinance process gives Elkins voters and freeholders significant influence over the final results.
“I’ve heard people say that adopting charter changes via ordinance somehow cuts the public out of the process, but nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Sutton. “In the ordinance process, all it takes is one qualified objection to any proposed change, and that change is off the table. At an election, a simple majority vote carries the day.”
City officials explained that they hope city voters and property owners see this process as an opportunity to make their voices heard.
“All I ask is that people use their leverage constructively,” Sutton explained. “Please don’t say no just for the sake of saying no, and don’t just tell us what you don’t want—tell us how the draft could be changed to satisfy your objection. Review the draft, share your opinions, and let’s all work together to get to a final charter update that is good for the whole community.”
The proposed charter draft, along with a variety of informational resources can be found, here.