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CHARTER PANEL TAKES BREAK TO PONDER ITS MISSION

The City Charter Review Commission is taking a couple of weeks off so its members can think about what they have achieved so far and decide what they should do next.

A public hearing scheduled for Thursday in the John Duke Senior Citizens Center has been canceled. The panel's eight members will "reflect individually on how to proceed," according to Chairwoman Barbara Burns-Blest.

The commission will reconvene at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3 in the committee-of-the-whole room in City Hall to share thoughts and to form a plan for educating the public about the charter, which is the blueprint by which the city government operates.

Commissioners will decide at that meeting when and where to hold future public hearings.

The commission is trying to remove the kinks from the charter that has been in effect since 1988.

Commissioners decided at the outset to ask for ideas from the public before reviewing the charter. So far, they have held two public hearings, both of which were sparsely attended.

At both hearings, residents said they wanted to read and learn more about the charter before suggesting any changes. Copies of the charter are available at both of the city's public libraries and in the city clerk's office in City Hall.

The commissioners also are looking into posting the charter on the city's web page. This idea and others for increasing public awareness will be discussed at the Sept. 3 meeting.

Ms. Burns-Blest emphasized that the commission still intends to hold public hearings in all areas of the city before it analyzes and suggests changes to the charter.

The charter provides for a form of government that has a mayor, a city administrator and a City Council. Some critics claim that it fails to make firm distinctions between the duties of the mayor and of the Council members, leading to repeated disputes and lawsuits among the parties.

Others claim that the present Council in which all seven members are elected at large should be changed so that some members are elected from specific districts. Still others question whether a Council with fewer members would be more desirable.

The Charter Commission's recommendations will be subject to a public referendum before a new charter can be enacted.

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