By Rachael Daniel
Living in the Ledge Staff Reporter
The Grand Ledge City Charter is stuck in the sixties. It has not been updated since 1963, but the mayor and other city officials have a plan to bring it up to speed with the times.
On Aug. 2 Grand Ledge voters will have the opportunity to vote on whether they want to see the charter revised, which will authorize registered voters to run for nine seats on the Charter Commission, the board that will ultimately make the changes to the charter.
“The way the charter is written now, it gives the council a very strong say in the day-to-day running of the city instead of the council being a policy and directing board,” said Gregory Newman, the city clerk.
Newman said this is a challenge, because most of the members on City Council have full-time jobs, so they do not have time to be as involved as they are, nor is it necessary for them to do so.
The city’s separation into three wards is another unnecessary part of the charter, said Newman.
“When you have a population with less than 10,000, you are a ward,” he said.
According to Michigan State University Political Science Professor Dr. Laura Reese, updating city charters is not a very common practice.
“The larger literature indicates that communities are increasingly changing their charters, but I don’t see that in the Michigan data,” said Reese. “Any changes are few and typically very minor.”
Though changes to charters in Michigan are rare, Mayor Kalmin Smith said the charter in Grand Ledge is in desperate need of updates.
“A charter should be a tool that is used right now to run the city and what happens is if you write a charter that has a lot of details in it like boards and commissions etc. that fit the time and then decades go by, pretty soon you have an anchor weighing you down instead of a vehicle that helps you to do your job,” said Smith.
Though he believes the revisions are necessary, Newman said one of the struggles ahead is motivating Grand Ledge citizens to actually run for the Commission.
“We haven’t had a contested race in a decade,” said Newman.
Smith said that they are attempting to combat this problem by reducing the number of signatures from the required 250 needed to run for City Council down to 25.
“It’s a lot of effort to get all those signatures and that discourages some people from running,” Smith said.
Because they believe so strongly that the charter is in need of changes, Smith and Newman said that informing the citizens of the issue is extremely important to the future of the charter.
“We are trying to do everything we can to let people know that it is a problem,” said Newman.
According to local resident Chris Cypher, their efforts seem to be working.
“I know about [the charter revisions] and I signed a petition for someone who is running,” said Cypher. “I think it’s important because the last time they updated it was the sixties.”
Ultimately, Newman said he hopes the people of Grand Ledge realize the need for change.
“The charter is 50 years old,” said Newman. “It’s time to update it.”