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Charter form of government for Havre on the ballot

The City of Havre has put a proposal on the ballot to change Havre to a charter form of government.

The last time the city put that on the ballot was in 2016.

The City of Havre has attempted to create a charter government and put the matter on the ballot before, but until now that shift to charter government had been accompanied hiring a city manager who would have taken many duties now handled by the mayor.

This proposal keeps the council-mayor form of government without hiring a city manager

A municipal government may acquire self-government powers only with the approval of a majority of the municipal electors voting on the question, a Montana State University Local Government Center handbook on community development says.

It says the question may be presented to the local electorate directly as a ballot proposal to adopt a municipal charter, which, if approved by the voters, automatically confers self-government powers upon the municipality.

A self-governing community can enact more proposals than a general government community, basically able to take actions as long as they are not prohibited by state law.

Montana State University Local Government Center Director Dan Clark said at a Havre meeting in September that, back in 1889, when Montana became a state and its original Constitution was created, local government was legally considered a creation of the Legislature. 

He said, according to the widely recognized legal principal called The Dillon Rule, municipalities were considered a creature of the state given authority only by the Legislature, a system that would come to be called general government powers.

However, he said, by 1972 during the state constitutional convention, there was a push by municipalities that wanted more autonomy.

This convention not only expanded general government powers, but established the possibility that municipalities could create their own charters, which he said are effectively constitutions for a city or county.

“I think for Havre to adopt a self-governing charter, it gives the city a lot more flexibility in addressing the needs of our community,” Ordinance Committee member Lindsey Ratliff said in a Sept. 13 interview. “In the past, there’s been issues that have come up that we weren’t able to address because it wasn’t granted through the Legislature. It doesn’t not give the city more power, it gives us more flexibility.”

Ordinance Committee member Karen Swenson said the charter form of government allows cities to enact any laws that do not violate state statutes and it does not change how ordinances are enacted — two readings and public input are still required.

“This proposal does not change anything else,” she said in a Sept. 14 interview. “The form of government, mayor and council, will remain the same. The charter won’t require any extra costs for the taxpayer.”

There isn’t a single government entity that is going to get more power through this, Ratliff said, adding that it just gives more flexibility to better serve the community through various avenues.

“I think that, when the last initiative failed, I think it’s because a lot of people were uneasy or unfamiliar with the form of government changing because when they proposed the charter in 2016, they also proposed a city manager form of government,” she said. “I don’t think people were comfortable enough with that idea and so the reason we put on this year’s ballot and by itself is because it's very popular more across the state of Montana.”

More than 30 cities across the state have adopted charters in the 40 years, she said.

"If there is something that is going on in the City of Havre and you say, 'Look we want to address this, we want to regulate this, there is something that we feel as a community is important to us,' but there's nothing in the law that says, 'Thou shalt be able to do this,' these self-governing powers will give you the ability to say, 'It's not prohibited but it's something that we need,'" Clark said at the Havre meeting.

If approved by the voters, the charter will go into effect Jan. 1.

Ballots will be mailed out Friday.


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