Bethel Acres to vote on forming charter for own government

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star

In an upcoming election on Tuesday, Sept. 14, voters in Bethel Acres will decide whether the town will frame a charter for its own government.

Brian Pierson, Ward 2 trustee for Bethel Acres, said the process to frame a charter started a few years ago.

“When I came onto the Bethel Acres Board a few years ago, I asked for a copy of the charter and ordinances in order to familiarize myself with the town's statutes,” Pierson said. “To make a long story short, after some in-depth research by the town clerk and municipal attorney, it was discovered that the town never had a charter since its incorporation in 1962.”

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Bethel Acres Town Attorney Breanne Gordon was able to show the State of Oklahoma that the town had been operating as a municipality since its incorporation, so its legal status was not in question, Pierson said.

“However, the town Board of Trustees decided that it was a prudent step to establish a charter for the town in order to ensure stability in the town's form of government as well as those issues that are important to the residents of Bethel Acres,” Person added.

A charter, he explained, is essentially a town's constitution, and while ordinances can be changed by a municipality's governing body, provisions in a charter can only be changed with a vote of the people.

As an example, Pierson said one ordinance in Bethel Acres is the “five-acre rule,” which requires a minimum lot size of five acres (with the exception of those grandfathered in from before the ordinance was in place). The five-acre rule, he said, is one that would be protected by the charter.

The charter was drafted last year, Pierson said, after the Bethel Acres Board of Trustees instructed Gordon on which provisions to include.

In order to get the vote on the ballot, he said, the state statue requires the board to vote in favor of becoming a charter town.

“Interestingly, there is a conflict between state and county governance over the timing of the vote; the state requires two months' notice, the county a month,” Pierson said. “So we had to vote twice, first to meet state requirements, then again a month later to meet the county requirements.”

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In addition, a panel of 10 residents, two from each of Bethel Acres' five wards, was appointed to review the charter.

The biggest impact a town charter will have on Bethel Acres residents, he said, is certain provisions that will only be able to be changed with a vote from Bethel residents.

“This will ensure that the country way of life that Bethel Acres (residents) cherish is preserved,” Pierson said. “The charter codifies our nonpartisan system of government as it is now and it protects our property rights. Only the people of Bethel Acres will have the power to change what's in the charter.”

The question on the ballot, “Shall the Town of Bethel Acres, Oklahoma frame a charter for its own government?” will go to a vote on Tuesday, Sept. 14, with the polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Asher residents will also go to the polls that day to cast a vote for two of the three candidates for the town's board of trustees – Robby Mosley, Wesley Culwell Jr. or Kenny Taylor.)

“The vote on the charter is the culmination of two years of hard work. I know the good residents of Bethel Acres will give it the due consideration it deserves at the ballot box,” Pierson said.