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How to fill vacancies in elected offices may change in Tallmadge

By admin Published: April 29, 2011

By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer

TALLMADGE: Hoping to avoid a repeat of the bizarre political twists that occurred after the city's mayor resigned last year, a Charter Review Commission has proposed changes on how elected officials are replaced.

The 11-member commission — formed once a decade to identify problems in the city charter — has submitted to City Council 21 amendments for the November's ballot.

Many of them are minor housekeeping issues, like adjusting language to reflect there is no longer a city ''treasurer.'' Council has said it may condense some proposals to make things easier on voters.

The more significant changes grew out of issues that surfaced when Mayor Chris Grimm stepped down in April 2010 with nearly two years left on his term.

Grimm, who was the Charter Review Commission's vice chairman, noted that only two mayors have resigned in the last half-century, so it's not an issue that comes up often.

''But after what happened last year, everyone looked at it and said, 'Oh, we gotta deal with this,' '' Grimm said.

Here are the highlights:

• Proposal: The City Council president, who automatically becomes acting mayor when a mayor resigns midterm, has seven days to decide whether to become interim mayor and serve until an appropriate election.

Current charter: No time limit to decide.

Issue: Some officials were frustrated last year when former council President Jack Sarver spent nearly a month considering whether to take the post. By the time Sarver decided

he wanted the job, his council colleagues had moved on to support another candidate.

• Amendment: The interim mayor would keep the seat until the next municipal election, which is held every other year.

Current charter: The interim serves until the following general election.

Issue: City Council named Service Director David Kline to the interim spot, but he then had to run in November's general election because there was another year left on Grimm's term. Kline now will have to mount another campaign this November for the regular municipal election.

• Amendment: If there is no time for a primary election to fill a mayoral vacancy, each party's precinct committee members who live in Tallmadge will nominate the candidates for the municipal election.

Current charter: Each county party organization selects a nominee based on its own rules.

Issue: The Summit County Democratic Party nominated Kline, but some Tallmadge households are in Portage County and a party member in that county was not invited to vote.

The Summit County Republican Party took the matter out of the hands of the precinct committee altogether, and had its executive board make the nomination.

Each party contested the way the other party handled the matter and the state had to rule on the case.

Grimm said there was some brief discussion on whether to address another issue that is even rarer than a mayor stepping down midterm.

When council refused to appoint Sarver interim mayor, he changed political parties. The predominantly Democratic council objected to Sarver remaining council president as a Republican, because the Democrats had voted him into that post.

''Sarver stepped down on his own. We discussed this, but decided not to proceed with it [as a charter amendment],'' Grimm said.

The commission has proposed similar replacement language for the elected posts of law and finance director.

There are two other charter recommendations not related to replacing elected officials.

One amendment would reduce the terms for board and commission members from six years to four. Grimm said six years is a long commitment, and many folks end up resigning because they run for other offices or are appointed to other posts.

The other proposal would allow the city to seek bids from a general contractor for major projects. The general contractor would then deal with subcontractors.

Because the current charter does not allow it, the city must follow state statute in seeking bids for every type of work individually, from plumbing to electrical.

Grimm said that in a recent project, subcontractors who didn't get along ended up suing each other.


Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.

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