Ely Council Ponders Charter Changes to Shrink Council

April 16, 2011; Ely Council Ponders Charter Changes to Shrink Council

Every form of government needs a set of rules by which that government operates. When America won its independence from Great Britain, our founding fathers came up with a constitution that has been the model system for all other free governments that have since followed our lead. Knowing that the U. S. Constitution wasn’t perfect, our founders left room to improve on the original document that was written in the late 1700s. Since that time the Constitution, which is the back bone of America, has been amended twenty seven times in order to keep trying to make it better.

When the City of Ely incorporated in April 1888 it needed its own constitution to be recognized as a legal government, and it is called The Ely City Charter. It does for local government what the U. S. Constitution does for our country. Essentially it is the set of rules by which our city operates. It makes the city council the legally elected governing body for our city. Like the Constitution, The Ely City Charter periodically undergoes occasional modifications. Over the years our city charter has been modified a number of times. Our current charter is about a quarter size of the original city charter, and it allows our council more freedom in which to operate than the old charter did.

Like many places Ely is feeling the financial crunch that is affecting the entire country. We have a national debt that is too big for this blogger to think about. The State of Minnesota owes about six billion dollars, so the money coming to Ely from St. Paul is growing smaller. Everyone is trying to find ways to save money, and the Ely City Charter Commission thinks it has found a way for the City of Ely to save a little money.

The Charter Commission wants to reduce the size of the city council from seven members down to five. We pay our councilors four hundred dollars a month, and if two of them were gone, the city could save a few thousand dollars each year. It isn’t a great amount of savings when you look at the total city budget, but in these dire times we need to save every nickel.

The mayor has come out against the plan, because he fears that a smaller council would be easier to dominate and control, but I am leaning towards a smaller and leaner council. Ely has gotten smaller over the years. Back in the 1970’s our population was 5270 people and now we number 3460 Elyites. We used to have four places in town where people could cast their votes, and now we have reduced that down to one voting place, all done in order to save the city money. It is all about saving money, but not if it costs us a balanced government.

In order to pass a motion our current council needs to come up with a majority of four votes. If we take the advice of the charter commission you would need a majority of three votes in order to pass a motion. I once asked an old friend long familiar with serving on committees if he had any advice on the size of a committee. My friend advised me that smaller was better, because you got more things done. I don’t think I would like to see the council any smaller than five, but this blogger believes that reducing the size of the city council from seven to five seems to make sense.

By Mike Hillman

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