A change to the city charter doesn’t have to be difficult.
We don’t elect our mayor directly in Morgantown—but we could.
As it is now, Morgantown City Council deliberates many things and resolves some of them, and the city manager executes what Council decides. It’s what state code calls the “manager” form of city government, and it’s effective for a small town where most issues are simple and most residents have similar backgrounds.
But our city keeps growing in size and diversity. And as we face harder-to-solve issues—questions of annexation, for example, or homeless services—it starts to seem like we may need a decisionmaker-in-chief: someone who can craft solutions to complex problems, rally public support, and take responsibility for the outcomes.
For the government of a city of our size and complexity to have the capacity to act, we need not only the executive leadership we have, but political leadership, too, says Morgantown lawyer Tim Stranko, who has served as counsel to many West Virginia cities.
A good citywide election for mayor builds that. “The electorate ratifies the preferred direction and provides indispensable credibility and inertia to act,” Stranko says. We voters would be able to turn intractable problems—sidewalk construction and maintenance, for example—into campaign issues and demand to get them, finally, resolved. “Not to criticize City Council—they’re earnest and doing good work,” Stranko says. “But maybe the model is self-defeating. That’s the question we have to ask.”
Morgantown is already set to consider a charter change: We will vote next April on whether to change Council service from two-year terms to staggered four-year terms.
We could also change our charter to a “strong mayor” form of government. Last week we asked what you think—here’s how 83 respondents came down:
Yes, Morgantown’s mayor should be elected. 57%
No, the manager form is working. 14%
Maybe—I don’t know enough. 11%
Let’s see if four-year terms help first. 18%
The most direct route is for Council to change the city charter by ordinance.
- A Council member would have to propose a charter-changing ordinance. Once proposed, Council would hold a public hearing to take comments from the public.
- If no objection is raised by a municipal voter or freeholder—that’s a land owner—or if all objections are withdrawn within 10 days of the hearing, Council can, by simple majority, approve adoption of the charter change by ordinance. We would elect our mayor directly in the following April-in-odd-years municipal election.
- If qualified objections remain after 10 days, Council can put the proposed amendment to voters as a referendum question at the following municipal election or in a special election. A simple majority of voters would make the amendment effective immediately, and we would elect our mayor in the municipal election two years later. Alternatively, if qualified objections remain, Council can let the question languish.