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Altus voters to choose city’s style of government

A city-manager led government or one led by the mayor - that’s the choice Altus voters will be...
A city-manager led government or one led by the mayor - that’s the choice Altus voters will be making when they head to the polls on February 12.
Published: Feb. 1, 2019 at 6:30 PM CST
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ALTUS, OK (TNN) - A city-manager led government or one led by the mayor - that’s the choice Altus voters will be making when they head to the polls on February 12.

The Altus City Charter election has a lot going on, but it really boils down to one thing: who do residents want to serve as the CEO of Altus. Currently, Altus is under a council - manager form of government, where an appointed city manager is in charge, but some want to see that changed to an Aldermanic form, where an elected mayor is the leader of the city.

Under the current system, the city manager makes the tough decisions regarding the city, including the hiring and firing of department heads. Some people, including past city leaders and current council members believe that’s the way things should be handled, allowing the city manager they hired to do their job.

"A city manager is very important in my mind for a community our size or bigger because of the complexities of running communities as they get bigger. I certainly qualify as an elected mayor, but I will tell you that I do not have the firsthand knowledge to know if we’re treating our drinking water to meet federal drinking water standards,” said Tom Buchanan, former freeholder for the City of Altus.

"When it comes to day to day operations, as an elected official with very little experience in managing a municipality on the administrative level, you don’t want me, nor do I want to be involved in those day to day operations and personnel decisions,” said Altus City Councilman Chris Riffle.

But there are some who believe the mayor and the city council, who are all elected officials, should be making those personnel decisions. In addition, they say there is currently not enough oversight for the city manager who makes those decisions.

"The city manager has very little oversight. When we wrote this charter, we had professional help but that professional help was an ex-city manager city attorney and that charter was really written in a very positive way towards city managers. I believe the city manager needs more oversight,” said Altus Mayor Jack Smiley.

"The city manager is in charge of all hiring and firing of city employees, where as in the Aldermanic the council and mayor approve all the hiring of department head levels or higher. I think that’s something that needs to be in there where the council can confirm any department heads and have local control,” said Altus resident Rick Steen.

Another big topic of debate within the government change is three elected positions, the city clerk, the police chief and the street commissioner. There was an election in November to make those three positions appointed, but it overwhelmingly failed.

"That was recently voted on by the people and it passed by 80 percent that they want to retain their elected chief of police their elected street commissioner and their elected clerk treasurer. As long as those people are elected that means the city manager has no control over three department heads and that is a conflict and it has been a conflict since we went to the manager form of government,” Smiley said.

Smiley said he wants to go to an Aldermanic form to protect those positions, though Riffle said if people want those positions to stay long term, they can simply do what they did last year and continue to vote for them to stay.

"It’s important to understand the charter cannot be changed by anybody but a vote of the people. That gives me the comfort that council can’t say hey we’re going to change the charter. The council put out questions last year, they turned out to be unpopular with people. But it was ultimately up to the people, it wasn’t council’s decision. All council did was say what do you guys think of this,” Riffle said.

The way that the ballot reads, if the Aldermanic form of government is chosen it will actually scrap the current city charter as a whole, likely leading to more changes in the future.

Every person 7NEWS talked to was in favor of a charter, and they all actually agreed that changes need to be made to the current charter, but where the disagreement starts is what those changes need to be. Those in favor of the Aldermanic form want to scrap the current charter all together and rewrite it as a whole, while those who want to keep the current form of government simply want to bring together another group of freeholders and make some smaller changes to the current charter.

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