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Changes ahead for Russell Springs city government
In Aug. 7-13 issue
By Derek Aaron
Times Journal Reporter

RUSSELL SPRINGS - Come January 1, 2009, the citizens of Russell Springs will be represented by a new form of government. After voters approved the change last year, it will be a mayor-council, rather than a commission.

According to Mayor Hollis DeHart, he is anxiously awaiting the change.

But before the council begins, new members must be elected. DeHart said that six council members will be chosen by the citizens of Russell Springs on Tuesday, November 4.

All positions are open and current commission members will have to run for the positions as well as any others who are interested.

As of this past Monday, Aug. 4, only current city commissioners Richard Wooldridge, Timmy Hudson and Ray Barrett have filed to run for a seat on the new council. DeHart said he had heard rumblings about several others who may file.

With the filing deadline in less than two weeks 4 p.m. on August 12 for the November  general election, potential council members have just a few days left to file for the new city council.

DeHart, who took office in January of last year, will still serve as mayor over the forthcoming Russell Springs City Council as he has to serve out his full four-year term as the city's leader.

Currently four commissioners, Wooldridge, Barrett, Timmy Hudson and Wayne Gaskin, and the mayor constitute the legislative body of the city and as a group are responsible for taxation, appropriations, ordinances and other general functions.

Now, individual commissioners are assigned responsibilities for a specific aspect of municipal affairs, such as public works, police, highways and the fire department, but that will soon change.

“There are significant differences in the way that a commission and a council works,” DeHart said. “In a commission, the mayor basically serves as another commissioner.”

DeHart said under the current form of government, he has a vote on the commission, can make motions and do anything any other commissioner can do.

As his primary duty so far as mayor, DeHart has been taking care of the administrative portion of city business.

“But as of January 1, all of it falls onto the mayor's shoulders,” he said.

He said he would have a staff and assign them to particular areas once the change is active.

“Councilpersons cannot oversee any department,” he said. “They are there strictly for legislative responsibilities.”

DeHart, who ran for mayor on a platform of reestablishing a city council, said it was “no well-kept secret” as to why he supported the change, which was recently petitioned for, put on a referendum and passed strongly in last fall's election.

“We've had some very divisive issues come up in the city and I personally felt that one of the problems was the form of government that we have,” DeHart said.

Under the mayor-council form of government, DeHart said, the mayor does all the hiring, and those hirings are not up for approval by the council.

Other major tasks the mayor will perform while presiding over a council are supervising the daily conduct of the employees, setting work schedules, establishes work procedure in regulation to government activities, signs all contracts and checks, administers the city budget once it has passed as well as disciplining and terminating city employees.

The mayor also has the authority to delegate responsibilities to subordinate officers and employees, he will preside over council meetings, he can veto or approve ordinances.

“The only time (a mayor) has a vote is to break a tie,” he said. “If I appoint an unelected officer, that has to have council approval, though.”

With a much larger workload than he now has, DeHart said he is looking forward to the challenge.

The new council, on the other hand, enacts all rules and regulations that apply to the general public as far as health safety and welfare is concerned.

“They levy taxes, establish fees for city services and they establish offices and positions,” he said. The council can also abolish those same offices and positions.

“They set the compensation for all of the employees and they adopt an annual budget,” he said. “They have to appropriate the funds to operate city government.” The council can also make amendments to the budget under the mayor's recommendation or their own. They also authorize for property to be purchased, when necessary.

DeHart said the council can also choose to dissolve any regulations he, as mayor, have set in place if they so choose to.

“It is a matter of checks and balances,” he said. “I want to make this really clear, I have heard the comment that (the change in government) gives the mayor too much power.

“This is from the city official's legal handbook: 'Members of the city council are not subordinate to the mayor. The members of the city council have, as elected officers, a co-equal status with the mayor.'”

DeHart said it was a matter of rearranging things and not a matter of taking authority away from any one person.

“The only voice a council, the legislative branch of the government, has is that they speak through the minutes,” he said. “In other words a councilman cannot go out and direct the workers to do anything, that is done through the mayor.”

Under the current form of government, commissioners do have authority over their designated department.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” he said. “There will be some significant changes, not necessarily in personnel, but there will be changes in the day-to-day operations of the government.”

DeHart said he would rely on his staff greatly during the transition time but said he expected things to go smoothly.

“Russell Springs is right on the cusp of growth and if we get a good council I can see some really good things happening for this town,” he said. DeHart noted the town's industrial growth, gas lines, the new buildings for industries and the expanding industries.

“I want to urge everyone to examine closely people coming to your home, seeking your vote for council,” he said. “If they have an ax to grind or hidden agendas, they can't do much for the city.”

DeHart said he would like to see a council that would help the city grow, be clean and be progressive.
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