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Government reform sparks debate

A push to propose an alternative to the near decade-old commission form of city government had residents divided at Aug. 8 charter review commission meeting.

The nine-member commission is charged with presenting voters a proposed alternative form of government this November. Some residents said the commissioner system is outdated and inefficient, while others said they'd be averse to changing a system that has seemingly served the city well; more so than cities with differently structured governments.

The commission is the second of its type since 2000, when the first commission made minor changes to the city charter. Formed only one month ago, it must complete a review of the current form of government and research alternatives for public review by Sept. 7.

The aggressive timeline is a concern to many residents.

You are proposing to change our whole government in, give or take, six weeks, resident Cliff Ammon told the commission. "I cannot support this process."

Other residents questioned the haste to get it on this November's ballot.

The drive for change has been present for years, said commission chairwoman Beth Hershenhart, adding the 2000 commission laid much of the groundwork for this group's task.

In a later interview, Mayor Valerie Keehn echoed Hershenhart's statement. "It's not a new issue in the city. It's something that people have been talking about for quite some time."

Keehn said the commission will not be hampered by the timeline because it has a narrow focus and will listen to the community. After a proposed new structure is created, the commission will have two months to educate residents as to how the current system works and listen to public input on the reform process.

If voters decide on restructuring the government, the city will have all of 2007 as a transition period, Keehn said. "So it's not going to be like on Nov. 7, 2006, we'll have a new government."

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