Buchanan Town Council agreed to send a few town charter changes to public hearing when it met Monday evening for its regular session.
The possible changes were the subject of a work session Friday afternoon when council split over whether to ease residence requirements for the town manager position, but was unanimous in agreeing to seek a charter change to stagger the four council seats’ and mayor’s two-year terms.
In a 3-2 vote during the work session, council rejected Mayor Larry Hall’s request to clarify and ease the requirement that a town manager hired by council establish full-time residency in the town.
Council renewed Town Manager Mary Zirkle’s contract earlier this year, but there has been disagreement about whether her part-time residence in Buchanan meets the Town Charter requirement.
Hall said Town Attorney Joe Obenshain’s opinion is that her residence— which is considered part-time because she sill maintains a residence in Bedford County— meets the charter requirements.
Something council seems to have agreed with because of the contract renewal.
Vice-Mayor Jamie Manspile argued against changing the residency requirement in the Town Charter.
Manspile said council shouldn’t ask for a charter change “to suit how we do things.”
He said the charter has the rules the council goes by, noting the town is in its infancy with a town manager and should follow the rules in the charter.
He also said he’s spoken with another attorney whom he said doesn’t believe Zirkle’s contract meets the residency requirement in the charter.
Council member Mike Burton said Zirkle agreed to buy a house in the town limits, and that was taken to Town Council and council agreed to accept that contract.
He considered it a “special exception” as is done with other situations in the Town Code. “The mayor and Town Council agreed we could grant a special exception in this instance in the charter, and were doing it legally,” he said.
He and Hall voted to ask for the charter change for the residence requirement that was put in the charter in 1992.
He said the other reason to make the change was the difficulty in finding a qualified person for the town manager position.
He said in he future, a charter change would clear up the residence matter.
He and Hall favored requiring a town manager to purchase a residence in the town, but that it could be a part-time residence for emergencies, special events, late meetings, etc.
But Manspile argued that requiring the town manager to live in town is a condition of employment and there was no reason to change the rule.
“I the exception is in compliance (with the Town Charter), let it stand,” he said.
Manspile said since coming on council he sees the need for a town manager. “It’s not way a working person could manage the town,” he said.
Still, he said, that he’s a “town person and very much believes if you work here in that position you need to live here.”
Manspile and Council members Jane Kneisley and Della Hylton voted to leave the charter as is.
Council was in agreement to ask for a charter change that will allow for staggered terms to maintain continuity on council.
“Everything’s gotten so complicated,” Hylton said of the need for continuity on council.
Manspile said the town needs at least some members of council to have experience so the town’s not dependent on the town staff. “It’s looking out for the best interest of the town.”
Hall said it may be possible to begin the staggered terms as early as the next town election in November 2018.
It’s likely in the next election, two members of council will be elected for 1 year and two others for 2 years. The mayor would be elected for 2 years. Those seats with 1-year terms would stand for election again the following year for 2-year terms to begin the stagger.
The change would mean Buchanan would have an election each year, as does the Town of Troutville.
Other proposed changes were geared toward cleaning up gender references and making the town clerk and town treasurer employees of the town under the town manager rather than being appointed by Town Council.