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Prop. 4 gives residents chance to change charter

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

Ballot Proposition 4 asks Juneau voters if they want to bring into existence a commission to look at the city charter and, possibly, to recommend changes.

The city charter requires the proposition be on the ballot every 10 years. Since borough-city unification in 1970, the measure has been on the ballot twice and failed both times.

"The only reason it's on the ballot is the city charter asks for it," said Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon. "And it fails because the voters see the assembly does have the ability to make changes (to the charter) when they're needed."

MacKinnon cited several amendments to the charter that have been introduced and passed by the assembly, including making the charter "gender neutral" in the early 1990s, establishing a 12-mill property tax rate cap, and establishing empowered boards for the Juneau Airport and docks and harbors.

MacKinnon said he could not envision a charter change that the assembly couldn't handle.

Convening a charter commission would be the equivalent of calling a state constitutional convention, said City Attorney John Corso. Such a commission would be necessary if changes being considered for the charter "were so pervasive as to have impacts throughout the charter."

There's no clear rule as to what would make a charter commission necessary, Corso said. The downside of convening one, though, is that it can become a "runaway convention," he said.

If the majority were to vote yes on Proposition 4 in Tuesday's election, the charter calls for nine qualified voters to serve as commissioners. They would be chosen at the next regular election or at a special election. And they would be elected on the same basis of representation as assembly members.

The commission would meet in public and, by majority vote of its full membership, devise its own rules governing organization and procedures.

After review of the charter, and by a vote of at least five of the commissioners, the commission would offer recommendations. These then would be submitted to the voters.

The assembly also may propose charter amendments by ordinance as it has in the past. At least six assembly votes are necessary for adoption. And voters may propose changes to the charter by petition.

"The city charter is very clear," said Chuck Keen, a one-time assembly candidate and critic of city policies. "When it was set up, it meant something. But people just don't live up to it. The charter is fine. It's just that nobody follows it."



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