At Thursday night’s meeting, Canton Councilman John Rust removed discussion and possible action on his proposed charter changes from the agenda, and said he has no plans to bring it back up to the council again.
In a prepared statement he read during the meeting, Rust thanked the public for their concerns, and said while the charter has flaws and needs to be changed, there is a process that can work better.
The decision to withdraw the proposed changes came after some council members and residents spoke out against Rust’s proposals during a specially called work session held Tuesday.
Rust proposed changes to 15 sections within the charter, including those dealing with the mayor’s veto power, the powers and duties of the city manager, powers and duties of the mayor, and the charter modification process. The charter changes would also have made the city manager the chief administrative officer and removed administrative powers from the description of the mayor’s duties, leaving him as the chief executive with executive powers.
Rust said Friday the feedback he received is what led to his decision to remove the changes from the agenda.
“They all gave me valid reasons why we shouldn’t go forward with it. Now, I’m going to leave the door open for suggestions. I think people were shocked, and that’s a good thing because they realize how important this is to them,” Rust said Friday. “I’m not going to create a new charter committee, but when the mayor is ready and after the new council member is elected, maybe we’ll be able to consider changes in the next three or four months.”
He referred to the charter review committee he was on that was created in 2012 and took 18 months, to consider changes, and he said his reason for proposing the changes quickly was to see it happen faster than how it was handled then.
“Our charter is imperfect, and we all know that. However, there is a process for change that can work better and maybe a little faster,” Rust said at the meeting,
Councilman Hooky Huffman said he thinks Rust did the right thing by removing the changes from the agenda, but he believes a committee in the future shouldn’t spend 18 months or even two months.
“I do not think we need to have a committee take 18 months or two months when we review this. We didn’t get a charter that pleased everyone, that’s the reason why Rust wanted to make some revisions,” Huffman said.
Rust also said in his statement Thursday night that different words in the charter can be misinterpreted.
“Even the simplest of words can be subject to multiple interpretations. How about the word ‘is’? Small wonder that Chief Administrator, referring to two people and majority and plurality referring to one election process, are difficult to correctly interpret,” the statement read.
Rust went on to encourage people in Canton to “be kind.” Rust questioned how many “unkind people” would show up if he tried to add an 11th Commandment of only two words and six letters within 60 days.
“Even if I cannot add an 11th Commandment; ‘Be Kind’ can be our commandment and we can spread Canton kindness everywhere,” Rust’s said in his statement.
Mayor Gene Hobgood said he was pleased Rust decided to take the changes off the agenda.
“I think it was the right thing to do. I give credit to him because he heard what was being said whether it was from other members of the council or the input from the public,” Hobgood said. “It was rushed quite a bit and more time is needed to consider these changes.”
Council member Sandy McGrew said it was a good move by Rust.
“I thought it was a good move so that we can take more time on the charter, because it does need some changes. By removing it from the agenda and not requiring us to vote gives us some more time, more transparency and can open it up to a more rounded group to look at it,” McGrew said Friday. “I think a small select committee with representatives from the council, people in the community and staff is needed. Then take some time, not a lot of time, to review it.”
While some citizens voiced their concerns at the work session Tuesday, more were prepared to address the council on the matter Thursday.
John Fincher was one of the three residents to discuss the charter changes while Pat Gold and Andy Bonner signed up but decided not to speak after the item was removed.
Fincher said he did not want to see the charter changes on Thursday’s agenda or any in the future without giving the public more notice.
“I was astonished to watch the video from the work session trying to rush to change the charter. Is there something legally wrong with it? If you feel the changes are necessary then convene the committee who wrote it before,” Fincher said. “There needs to more input from citizens.”