Jackson City Attorney Tom Ludwig had been a proponent of Jackson becoming a charter city for at about 15 years. If voters approved the move from a fourth-class city to a charter city, a charter commission would write a charter that would become the basis of the city’s government, instead of the city being governed by state statutes. This allows for greater flexibility.
Ludwig gave a presentation to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen about becoming a charter city at a retreat Oct. 22. This began a discussion that has carried over into study sessions in subsequent meetings.
Ludwig gave a presentation during a study session at the Dec. 16 Board of Aldermen meeting in which he announced he has changed his mind “180 degrees” regarding his desire to become a charter city.
Ludwig had completed an in-depth study of charter cities. He presented a list of 41 charter cities in Missouri and a bullet list of positives and negatives associated with becoming one. (Sikeston became one in 2002; Cape Girardeau in 1981).
It was a question posed by Alderman Joe Bob Baker at the retreat that became the “guiding light” of Ludwig’s research into charter cities. Baker had asked, “How does this make us better; what can we do for our citizens as a charter city that we couldn’t do as a fourth class city?”
“In the weeks that I’ve worked on this, I have come 180 degrees,” Ludwig said. “I have gone from being very enthusiastic about it to having report to you tonight that charter city status is certainly an option.
“The advantages of home rule is that home-rule cities have greater flexibility in responding to citizens’ needs and public services without waiting on legislative authorization. Home rule cities have greater choice of government organization,” he added.
For example, charter cities could change the number of aldermen, change the length of their terms in office, make the mayor a more powerful position as it is in New York City, and make the city administrator an elected position instead of being a full-time staff position.
In the list of charter cities, Ludwig pointed out that there was a big movement to become one in the 1980s and ’90s. That was because fourth-class cities could not pass hotel/motel taxes and charter cities could. But the legislature changed the law a few years ago so fourth-class cities could put a hotel/motel tax in front of voters. So that reason to become a charter city vanished.
The disadvantages of becoming a charter city includes cost. In 1980, St. Charles paid $12,000 to become a charter city. It would cost a lot more today. It is expensive, because it includes the cost of educating the public and holding an election. “The cost of a charter campaign is fairly substantial.”
Secondly, “There are questionable advantages over operating as a fourth-class city,” Ludwig said. If the Board of Aldermen chose to keep operating as a fourth-class city, Ludwig could think of nothing that they would want to do that they could not do.
Thirdly, once the ball is rolling, an elected 13-member charter commission would write the charter that its members wanted, and city voters would vote on it. That charter could be a good one or a bad one. It might have some good parts and some bad parts. The city would be stuck with its charter until another election is held to change it.
Ludwig said he could find nothing that a charter city could do that a fourth-class city can’t do. “It’s not there,” he said. “I have looked under every rug and overturned every rock to find you a good example of what you can do if you were just a home-rule city. I started off believing that this was the thing to do for 15 years; that’s why I looked for that good example. I don’t have it for you.”
He suggested the aldermen keep the idea of becoming a charter city in their back pocket or desk drawer for a future possibility, but he saw no need to pursue it at this time.