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Charter Commission ‘discussion’ fell short

The Fairmont City Council disagreed last week over a list of appointments to the city’s Charter Commission. The list now moves on to a judge, who actually appoints the commission members. The council vote was the familiar 3-2. It also represented a backtracking in how the council had previously agreed to cooperate and not spring new information on each other at the last minute.

Mayor Deb Foster had put together a list of 16 applicants for the judge, who would be able to appoint eight. The council had the information five days prior to its April 27 meeting.

A good discussion on April 27 might have delved into the qualifications of possible appointees, since the Charter Commission has had a bit of its own dysfunction in the past year or so. Perhaps with council members putting a focus on reasonable, amiable, knowledgeable people, and questioning the qualifications of the loud, disruptive, agenda-driven element.

In any case, Councilman Tom Hawkins brought the surprise to the party. He said the council should send the judge the names of the seven commission incumbents who reapplied, along with one new name that he “selected at random,” Chuck Omvig. The mayor’s other eight picks should be “alternates,” he said.

Hawkins made some fair points. He said if incumbents want to serve they should not be rejected. And he said the council is in a better position than a judge to evaluate who can and should serve.

But Councilman Bruce Peters said it felt like Hawkins, with the typical backing of Randy Lubenow and Ruth Cyphers, was “handpicking” Charter Commission members. Peters also noted that the change by Hawkins snubbed an agreement among council members made in February not to blindside each other with changes. And like Foster, Peters suggested that turning away some applicants as “alternates” is not fair and may be political, not reasonable.

Cyphers and Hawkins saw politics working the other way too. Tough to disagree. We have no doubt that in most aspects of Fairmont city government these days — and for more than a year — each “side” is trying to support its “team.” But creating “teams” within the City Council hinders quality decision-making.

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