The Vermillion City Council followed the recommendation of a Home Rule Study Committee that was appointed last year and agreed to establish a second committee -- this one known as the Home Rule Charter Committee.

The ultimate goal is to have the city council, at some future date, submit a home rule charter to city voters for approval.

Aldermen anticipate appointing a five-member Home Rule Charter Committee at its Monday, March 2 meeting. Individuals interested in serving on the committee are asked to complete an Expression of Interest Form and return it by 12 noon on Thursday, Feb.27.

The council has discussed holding public meetings to inform the public about the desire for a home rule charter in coming months so that citizens will be informed to decide the charter’s fate at this November’s election.

Mike Card, chairman of the Home Rule Study Committee, told the city council at its Jan. 20 noon meeting that the committee met several times last October with the charge of studying the advantages and disadvantages of home rule in a community like Vermillion, the impact it would have on an aldermanic form of city government with a city manager and recommendations to make on the establishment of a home rule charter committee should the city wish to proceed and form a charter for home rule.

“Our plan of study was to read the home rule charters in existence in the state of South Dakota -- what were the commonalities and the unique features,” Card said at the January meeting. “We had several individuals read each charter; we compared notes to talk briefly about the findings and also to identify questions we could ask of city council members, mayors, their legal counsel, their administrators and their city managers.

“Basically what we wanted to know is how does the charter help meet community needs, what works well to solve when particular problems arise and what isn’t working well and what to do about that,” he said.

Card said that most of the things that communities with home rule charters have done could be labeled under the format of efficiency.

“Under state law and the U.S. Constitution, we operate under what’s commonly known as Dillon’s Rule -- that is, cities, counties, townships -- all forms of government below the state, are creatures of the state and can only do those things that are specifically authorized and those things that are indispensable to performing those activities,” he said. “Home rule allows the city to do what isn’t prohibited. Home rule allows a community to still be bound by prohibitions -- things that the state decides the city should not be able to do -- but also to be able to do things that the Legislature may not have authorized but the city council determines are in the best interest of the community.”

Most of the activities that have taken place in communities with a home rule charter, the committee discovered, have been creating specific conflict of interest laws for the city and authorizing the use of credit cards for payments of fees before the state Legislature had authorized that activity.

“That was a fairly common procedure -- to adopt something that seemed to be a good business practice for the municipal corporation but hadn’t been specifically authorized by the state Legislature,” Card said.

Home rule, the committee discovered, “enabled, perhaps, a more efficient delivery of services and enabled some services that the council determined were for the good of the city,” he said. “We looked at the communities that had city manager governments around the turn of the century … that’s when there was a flurry of activity to enact home rule charters.

“Essentially, the home rule charter changes the framework. The city can do what is not prohibited of it. That doesn’t prevent the Legislature from coming back and saying ‘no, you can’t do that.’”

The largest opposition to home rule charters nationwide is that it’s believed to be a backdoor by its opponents that allows communities to establish new forms of taxation.

“In South Dakota, there are specific statutes that prohibit communities or specify how new taxes and fees are to be enacted by a community,” Card said. “What a state or national government prohibits is still prohibited. What is otherwise not prohibited is possible for the city to consider.”

A feature of home rule that caught the committee’s notice, he said, was the ability to enact emergency procedures without waiting for a presidential or a gubernatorial action.

“The basic reason is to create flexibility for the city to handle the needs of the citizenry,” Card said.

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