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New measure would shorten Charleston council members' terms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston City Council took its first step toward altering the,  municipal election cycle with the introduction of a bill that would shorten members' terms by six months after the 2015 election.

The bill, which aims to align the city's election with the offyear state-run election in 2018, was introduced Monday during the council meeting.

Council Majority Leader Jack Harrison, a Democrat representing the ward around Corridor G, believes the bill is a "good move."

"It could end up saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars," Harrison said.

Charleston has to pay poll workers for city elections and some city workers are also given the day off, Harrison said.

Council would still incur an expense for elections that "piggyback" on state elections, but the cost would be significantly less, he said.

"We'd still have to pay to have our races on the county's ballots," Harrison said.

Harrison sponsored the bill along with Council President Tom Lane, an at-large Republican. Lane also believes the bill would benefit the city and its voters.

"If we can get the city election to totally jive with the state elections, we would see a lot more people turn out to vote," Lane said. "And that's a good thing."

The bill came about as a result of the controversy that arose when some city leaders promoted the idea of holding non-partisan elections, Mayor Danny Jones said. This effort died in 2011 because of stiff resistance among the rank and file council members.

Jones also supports the new measure, which he also believes will end up saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in election costs over the years.

"And it will keep us from inconveniencing the schools," Jones added.

City elections are not a holiday and schools remain in session. However, many of the polling places are located in schools, meaning voters have to enter the buildings while class is in session.

Jones also addressed the possibility of having a higher voter turnout by holding the elections during an off-year state race.

"I hope this increases turnout," he said.

The idea is to hold city elections between presidential elections in order to keep partisan politics to a minimum, Jones said.

Jones, Lane and Harrison all believe the measure will pass.

Lane pointed out that the change would not affect current council members.

The changes would not become effective until after the next city election in 2015. The proposal is to shorten council members' terms between 2015 and 2018.

Council members typically serve four-year terms. However, the proposal is to shorten that term to three and a half years for one election cycle in order to align with the county, state and national races, Lane said.

But, council members elected in 2018 would then go back to a four-year term, he said.

A public hearing on the matter will be held on March 18 at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The bill has been referred to council's Rules and Ordinances Committee.

Harrison is chairman of the committee.

The committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in the third floor conference room at City Hall to discuss the measure, Harrison said. Committee meetings are open to the public.

Council also approved a promotion for City Collector Charles Thompson. Thompson will move into his new position as human resources director in the coming weeks, City Manager David Molgaard said.

Thompson will take over the position formerly held by Judy King, who is retiring.

Thompson has served as city collector since 2007. He has been with the city since 2002.

The business and occupation tax supervisor Tonya Cotton will take over Thompson's position in the city collector's office, Molgaard said. Thompson's salary will remain about the same, he added. Thompson's salary range is between $63,600 and $81,370, Molgaard said. Molgaard would not reveal Thompson's exact salary.

Thompson said he was pleased with the promotion and that he is eager to begin work as the new human resources director. However, the position will be challenging, he said.

One of the challenges will be addressing the nation's new Affordable Care Act. The act will require the city to provide health care to any employee who works more than 30 hours per week, Thompson said.

The city employs numerous part-time workers, especially in the public grounds department in the summer, Thompson said.

"It's something that's going to come up and it's something that we'll have to focus on," he said.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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