Former Altus council members propose monumental city changes

Altus petition circling

ALTUS, OK (RNN Texoma) - Two former Altus City Councilmen are leading the charge to potentially make monumental changes to how the city’s government operates.

Under the current Altus City Charter, the day-to-day operations of the city are handled by the city manager. But, there is a petition to change that by having Altus go back to an Aldermanic form of government, essentially making the mayor the CEO of the city, while giving more power to the city council.

The Altus City Charter was voted into effect in 2013, shaping how the town's government would operate going forward. But, just a few years after that vote, former Altus City Councilman Jerry Don Henry is unhappy with how the charter has been implemented.

"I feel like the council should be involved in part of the operation of the city. They were elected by the electoral votes of the citizens and I believe they want their council members involved not in the day by day operation but by being able to visit with the employees and having the hiring and firing rights of the department heads,” Henry said.

Former Councilman Rick Steen said that under the current charter, city council members cannot have any contact with city employees regarding the inner workings of the city, which further separates elected officials from those they represent.

"They have one meeting a month and it goes probably about 30 or 35 minutes and they have a study session on the second floor. We debated all of our ordinances in open session where citizens could come and put their two cents worth in. I feel like that’s what the vote is all about. Is being able to have citizens input into the decisions being made with your public funds and your tax money,” Steen said.

Mayor Jack Smiley said problems are arising within city government thanks to a vote in just a few weeks that would change the city charter. Currently, there are holdovers from the Aldermanic form of government, notably the elected positions of Street Commissioner, City Clerk and Police Chief. The vote in November would change that, making the positions appointed.

"We’re trying to blend the Aldermanic form by keeping our three elected department heads with a city manager style of government and those two clash. It will never work. If the citizens want to retain their three elected officials, they need to change back to an Aldermanic form of government. If they want to keep their city manager form of government, they need to do away with the elected officials and make them appointed. I think it’s obvious the people want to keep their officials elected,” Smiley said.

So, Steen and Henry filed a petition that would fully revert the city back to the Aldermanic form of government. That petition is gathering signatures across Altus and Henry said they believe they need between 1,200 – 1,500 signatures. They have an attorney working to get them the exact number needed. If they receive enough signatures, the petition would go on the February ballot for a public vote on which form of government the city will operate under.

You can read more about what, exactly, the role of the mayor, city manager and city council would be under an Aldermanic form of government below.

7NEWS also reached out to Altus City Manager Janice Cain about the petition. She said she did not currently know enough about the proposed changes to make a comment.

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