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Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868

Falls City targets charter changes

Dallas also considering revisions

February 27, 2013

FALLS CITY -- When Falls City's charter was written, it was assumed all city council members and mayors would be men.

City employees, under the first edition of the charter, didn't have the authority to spend more than $20 without council permission. That restriction was thankfully changed later ... to $100.

Among the many powers granted to the city council under the charter were the right to prohibit or repress "bawdy houses," places where opium is smoked, and -- much to the relief of all citizens -- building a barbed wire fence.

Welcome to city governance in 1891, the year Falls City's original charter was approved. The 55-page document addresses all manner of issues, from regulation of businesses, infrastructure construction and maintenance, and punishment for crimes.

Believe it or not, for the most part, that document still governs the city and its council today.

With all due respect to the city's founders, Falls City's current council thinks it's time for a change. And it's not about simply adopting up-to-date and gender-neutral language, but adapting to modern realities.

Amber Mathiesen

Amber Mathiesen

City Administrator Amber Mathiesen said Falls City's charter is one of the few in the state that contains enumerated powers for the council, meaning rights and responsibilities of the council are specifically listed within the charter.

"When you have enumerated powers you are giving yourself powers, but you are also then limiting yourself," Mathiesen said.

Mathiesen said the charter also requires the city perform duties that are simply not practical. One is the $100 spending restriction. Mathiesen said that has made what would otherwise be an administrative duty -- such as the acceptance and expenditure of small grants -- into a process requiring council approval.

"The environment of government has changed quite a bit since the charter was written," Mathiesen said.

Another quirky requirement is that the mayor must approve -- as in literally post a stamp of "Approved" -- to every ordinance for it to be enacted.

To address those issues -- and many others -- the council approved forming a committee to begin revising the charter. The committee would consist of the mayor, two city councilors and four citizens.

"The council was very specific in wanting citizen involvement because the charter governs the city, not just the council itself," Mathiesen said.

Citizen members will be appointed by the council, perhaps as soon as the next council meeting. The committee has until Dec. 31 to provide a recommendation that will go to the council, unless more time is needed.

A charter revision requires a vote of citizens and the hope is to have it on the ballot in either May or November of 2014, Mathiesen said.

Dallas' Administrative Committee has also discussed updating the city's charter, which compared to Falls City's is fairly young, written in 1964.

City Manager Ron Foggin said discussions are preliminary at this point, but a revision is likely in the next few years.

Ron Foggin

Ron Foggin

"It's an outdated charter that definitely needs to be worked on," he said. "It was written in the early 1960s."

Both cities are considering using the League of Oregon Cities' 18-page model charter as a basis to start revisions.

For Falls City, that will mean essentially starting over with a completely new format.

"I anticipate it will be a significant change," Mathiesen said.

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