Gender neutral language among charter changes to be decided by Lincoln voters

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Among the local city races on the May 7 General Election ballot in Lincoln, voters will also decide if they want to make chances to the city charter.

Five amendments will appear on the ballot, many of which city leaders have said are outdated and no longer needed.

Proposals to amend city charter are often identified by the Charter Review Commission, which is made up of a group of 15 Lincoln residents who meet periodically to discuss any possible changes.

Once the committee finds changes, City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick said his office will review the proposals to make sure they won't conflict with other charter provisions or state law.

Kirkpatrick called charter amendments a routine process which requires a simple majority to take effect.

One proposed charter change on the May 7 ballot includes removing a requirement that city council members post a $2,000 bond upon taking office.

"The primary reason why the commission decided to take it out is because it's already covered under state law, and it seemed redundant to require something in the city charter that's already required in state law," Kirkpatrick said.

Another would overturn a provision that allows Lincoln's mayor or police chief to draft residents to help manage and assist during riots. Refusal to follow through with their commands would result in a fine of up to $100.

Kirkpatrick said it's unclear how far back the policy dates, but "the reference is directly to riots, so you've got to go back to a period in our city's history where riots were not an uncommon occurrence."

"Since we fortunately haven't had riots for a long period of time, we thought we could dispense with that," Kirkpatrick said. "I don't know that its ever been used in any place."

Among other changes include allowing the city to build and maintain a coal and fuel yard, a bond proposal to build a city auditorium and adding gender neutral language when referencing the duties of Lincoln mayor.

In the early 20th Century, rising coal prices began to worry people who used the fossil fuel as a source of home heating, which prompted Lincoln city leaders to create a way to possibly compete in the business.

The charter provision dates back to 1922, but Kirkpatrick said he isn't sure it was ever used.

"I don't think it ever was, but the very fact that it was in place kind of put pressure on the coal yards to be more competitive and not to rip off consumers," Kirkpatrick said.

An amendment to remove a voter-approved bond issue to build an auditorium comes about five years after the closing of said auditorium.

Voters approved the measure in 1949, which later resulted in the construction of Pershing Auditorium.

"Unnecessary and way out of date," Kirkpatrick said of the provision's relevance today. "We can't build a city auditorium for that amount of money and with the Pinnacle Bank Arena, we should be covered for the next 40 or 50 years out."

The fifth and final proposed amendment includes adding a new provision declaring language within the charter be gender neutral.

"I could point you to several different places where it talks about the mayor and says 'He,'" Kirkpatrick said. "Well, we don't mean that the mayor can only be a man."

The move comes as Lincoln voters will decide the next mayor among two female candidates.

Instead of changing every instance of 'man' included in the charter, which Kirkpatrick said would create too long of a ballot, the amendment would create a catch-all type situation.

"This helps to move us, not really into the 21st century, [but] it gets us into the 20th century finally, I think you could say," Kirkpatrick said.