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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Ordinance delayed to appoint rather than elect prosecutor

  • With two members dissenting, the Rolla City Council Monday night voted to ask the administration to bring to the next meeting a draft ordinance to make the job of city prosecutor an appointive one rather an elective one.
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  • With two members dissenting, the Rolla City Council Monday night voted to ask the administration to bring to the next meeting a draft ordinance to make the job of city prosecutor an appointive one rather an elective one.
    Although City Administrator John Butz included a draft ordinance with the agenda, the council chose not to hear its first reading. Instead, waiting until the Nov. 4 meeting will give the council two weeks to accept comments from their constituents.
    Resident Wanda Reveal spoke at the meeting about the importance of her right to vote on public officials.
    “Voting is a right that should not be tampered with,” she said. “Don’t try to take it away from me. I’m going to fight you tooth and nail.”
    Few Rolla residents would agree with her, election results would indicate.
    In April 2012, the last election for the city prosecutor, a mere 1,294 votes were cast in the city for that office. Incumbent Robert J. Stoltz received 639 votes, Brendan J. Fox received 553, Dean Matthews received 100 and write-in candidates received two.
    Countywide, only 2,626 of the 27,947 registered voters cast ballots. That was a 9.4 percent turnout, so more than 90 percent of the voters would appear to disagree that the right to vote for the city prosecutor, or council or school director or any other office, is an important right.
    Butz also noted in his agenda commentary that “administration has not received any public comment on the matter since the last council meeting.”
    Nevertheless, the council has given the registered voters two weeks to offer their comments.
    The change from elective to appointive is a suggestion from Mayor Bill Jenks III. He opened that discussion at the Oct. 7 meeting noting that he is satisfied with the conduct of the current prosecutor, Fox, appointed by Jenks after Stoltz resigned to move to another state.
    Jenks, at the last council meeting, said the advantage of the appointive position is “we have direct influence” over who is selected for the position, rather than relying on the voters to make the choice.
    Often voters have no idea of the qualifications of the candidates for prosecutor, Jenks said at the Oct. 7 meeting, drawing a parallel between that decision and the trouble he has making a decision whether or not to vote to retain Missouri Supreme Court judges because he doesn’t know anything about their backgrounds.
    Butz in his agenda commentary for Monday night’s meeting said the change would be like other such appointments in Rolla: city marshal, city treasurer and city collector. The city has a police chief rather than a city marshal, a finance department instead of a treasurer and the collection of taxes is handled by the county.
    Page 2 of 3 - “The vast majority of Missouri communities have made such a change in order to open up the pool of qualified candidates for city prosecutor (including those living outside the city limits),” Butz wrote in his commentary.
    He included a list of Missouri cities he contacted. Only Rolla and Lebanon, elect the city prosecutor.
    “The position of municipal judge appears to have retained the elected position approximately 50 percent of the time,” he added. Rolla’s municipal judge is elected.
    Fifth Ward Councilman Brian Woolley, an attorney, who spoke against the change at the Oct. 7 discussion, reiterated his opposition for three reasons:
    One, he said, making the job appointive could lead to the appointment of a person from outside Rolla, or even outside Phelps County, who would not be a taxpayer.
    Two, he said, the job of prosecutor is a powerful one, and the voters ought to be trusted to make the selection of who wields that power. Taking that right away tells the voters the council doesn’t trust their judgment. “That’s insulting to the voters of Rolla,” Woolley said.
    Finally, he said, he believes that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s not broken. I don’t see the need for the change.”
    First Ward Councilman Jonathan Hines said he believes in a diffusion of power and having the jobs of police chief and city prosecutor both appointive by the mayor and council gives them too much power. Butz said that the police chief and the prosecutor are both sworn in to enforce the law, so the chance of abuse of power is minimal, especially as long as the office of judge remains elective.
    Both Woolley and Hines later voted against bringing back the draft ordinance at the November meeting.
    During the discussion before the vote, Butz conceded that the move might make city prosecution more expensive.
    The job of part-time city prosecutor currently pays $24,000 per year, and if the council were to approve an ordinance making the job appointive, the appointee might not be willing to work for that.
    Sixth Ward Councilman Tony Bahr asked what would happen if no attorney would work for less than $30,000 per year. “Do we have a way to back out of it if we don’t like it?” he asked. Butz said the council could back out of the bids for the job and hold an election — if the ordinance is passed and proposals are received from attorneys interested in the job before the election filing period opens for the April 2014 election.
    Butz said he envisions the city prosecutor having a contractual arrangement similar to that of the city counselor, a set number of years, say three to five, with a couple of one-year extensions.
    Page 3 of 3 - What would possibly happen to the price of the job after that was not discussed.

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