Akron Councilman Bruce Kilby is questioning the wording of Akron’s charter amendment that will be on the November ballot.
Kilby, who opposed putting the amendment on the ballot, thinks it was purposely worded to deceive voters. He recently wrote to the Summit County elections board, and the board will discuss his concerns at its meeting Monday.
“I respectfully ask the board not to allow this proposed charter amendment to be submitted to the electors of the city of Akron in its present form,” Kilby wrote in a two-page letter to the board. “In the name of democracy and fair elections, I ask you to prevent this abuse of power.”
The amendment, which council voted 10-3 to put before voters, would increase the terms of ward council members from two to four years, eventually making it so that all council members and the mayor are elected at the same time. It also would limit the amount of raises council members and the mayor receive to the average amount awarded that year in the private sector, as determined by U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
Mayor Don Plusquellic and Council President Marco Sommerville, who proposed the amendment, say it would save money by putting all municipal elections in the same year and eliminating the cost of off-year elections.
Kilby wrote in his letter that council put an issue on the ballot in 2006 to increase the terms for ward council members that had clear language. It said, “Shall Section 28 of the charter of the city of Akron be amended to change the terms of a ward councilman from two years to four years?”
Nearly 62 percent of the voters rejected it.
The language for the latest amendment says, “Shall sections 28.2 and 53 of the charter of the city of Akron be amended to eliminate the cost of an extra election, to elect all council members to a four-year term at the same election and to limit raises for members of council and the mayor?”
Kilby said the wording of the amendment doesn’t explain that Akron council members — ward and at-large — would be elected to two-year terms next year and all council members and the mayor would be on the ballot two years later. He said it doesn’t explain what the current terms for ward council members are.
He also said it combines two issues — changing the terms and limiting raises — and voters might favor one and not the other. A few people who addressed council members before they voted to put the amendment on the ballot raised that issue.
“It’s a very cynical attempt to get people to vote for something we know we don’t want by wrapping it in a real nice package,” Kilby said. “I don’t think the board of elections should allow it to happen.”
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Mike Todd initially had concerns when he read the language for the amendment, but he said this had to do with how the language was laid out, rather than the wording. He said he thought a part of the language in bold wasn’t part of the text when it was.
He said his task with charter amendments is to determine whether the language matches the intent of the ordinance. He said Akron’s language meets this test.
“I’m not making any judgment on the legality,” he said.
Akron Law Director Cheri Cunningham said the ballot language is “absolutely sufficient.”
“It accurately reflects what it’s doing,” she said.
The deadline for getting local charter issues on the Nov. 6 ballot is Sept. 7.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.