The City of Reading Charter Review Commission has approved five amendments to the City’s Home Rule charter to send to City Council and the Mayor for placement on the ballot as questions in the Municipal Primary Election Tuesday April 28, 2020.
In the order in which the sections appear in the Charter that the proposed amendments would change, the first proposed Charter amendment would limit all City elected officials (Councilman, President of Council, Mayor and City Auditor) to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. There are no term limits in the Charter currently. The amendment allows in addition for one to complete another’s term to fill a vacancy for less than four years and for serving additional non-consecutive terms. The purpose is to encourage more competition for City elected offices and more effective service.
Two proposed amendments authorize City Council and the City Auditor each to hire and manage their own staff. Currently under the Charter, the employees in both the Council and Auditor’s offices are hired by and are under the management of the Executive Branch of Government. The two amendments of the Charter would place those employees in the City Council and Auditor’s offices, as well as under the management of their respective offices, with each office having the authority to hire their own staff, in accordance with all other provisions of the City’s employment policy. These measures would protect the doctrine of the Separation of Powers and the independence of the City Auditor.
Another amendment that would appear on the ballot between the previous two referendums would allow City Council to hire its own Council Solicitor to advise it, also in keeping with the Separation of Powers. The current City Solicitor represents the City in all its Branches of Government, including Council. Other Third Class Cities in Pennsylvania also have separate Solicitors for the Legislative Branch.
The final amendment would split the Administrative Services Department into the Finance and Human Resources Departments, as they had been originally in the Charter before an amendment in May 2010 that combined the two Departments. This amendment would effectively repeal the May 2010 amendment by restoring the original language of the Charter, except for a change to the numbering of the sections.
The Charter Review Commission is established by Section 1203 of the Charter to meet at least every 3 to 5 years for a six-month term to recommend amendments to the Charter. The eleven-member Commission was appointed in September by City Council and the Mayor. The Charter allows two other ways for amendments, by City Council by ordinance and by the People through the initiative/referendum process.
The Commission will continue to meet to consider amendments to be placed on the November 3 General Election ballot until March, at which time it must issue a report to City Council and the Mayor of the City of Reading.