NORTH CANTON: Voters might be asked to decide in November if they want to change the city charter to make the mayor’s job full time.
Former councilman and city hall watchdog Chuck Osborne, who filed a copy of the proposal with the city’s finance director Wednesday, said he will begin circulating petitions this week to place a charter amendment before voters in November to adopt a strong mayoral form of government.
Osborne will need to collect signatures from 746 registered voters before the Aug. 7 board of elections deadline for the proposal to make it on the fall ballot. If approved, the change would take effect for the candidate who takes office in 2015.
North Canton’s charter, which voters approved in 1960, calls for a city administrator — appointed by the mayor and approved by council — to handle the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor is considered the city’s ceremonial head.
That structure doesn’t work well any longer, Osborne said in a recent interview.
“It’s a complicated world. One person just can’t do it all. It seriously takes one person to just manage day-to-day problems,” he said.
The proposal does not address any changes in the city administrator’s full-time position.
North Canton’s population of 17,419 residents has remained relatively steady since 2010, according to the latest American Survey report on the U.S. Census, and has grown by about 1,000 people since 2000.
Former city law director Roy Batista served on the most recent charter review commission convened in 2007. He said the 15 commission members went through the charter section by section, including the one dealing with the part-time mayor’s job, and decided to “leave well enough alone.”
“The idea was you would hire a city manager who would carry over from administration to administration. There would be a professional handling the city’s business with a figurehead mayor,” Batista said.
Osborne, a frequent critic of North Canton Mayor David Held, said the issue is not personally aimed at him. He does insist that people should be able to contact the mayor during regular business hours when they have a problem.
“Most people want to go to city hall and see the mayor if they have a complaint. Or a businessman, he would expect a mayor to be out there meeting business leaders and recruiting business,” he said.
Held, the executive director of the Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Solid Waste Management District, was elected mayor in 2005 and has run unopposed in the past three elections.
He said that even if he is not in the city during business hours, he is available in person on evenings and weekends and is never further away than a phone call or email.
“As far as availability, I can assure you that Chuck Osborne has never had a problem getting me day or night. He has been at my door at night, and by the way, I’ve invited him in. He has my phone number, my cell phone number, my private cell number, my email address, my private email address — and he uses them,” Held said.
The petition addresses only the hours the mayor should be available for city issues. It does not take into account what the position would pay if increased to full time.
Osborne said any salary changes would be up to council. He takes umbrage with the mayor’s salary of $15,000 a year with roughly $15,000 in benefits.
“At present time, we elect a person as mayor, give him $30,000. Low and behold, they already have a job, and you will not find a mayor at city hall during business hours,” he said.
City Council should increase the full-time mayor’s salary by $10,000 or $15,000 a year, Osborne said. He speculated that it could be done by reducing the city administrator’s salary accordingly, but the petition does not address that.
As of Dec. 1, the mayor no longer will be eligible to receive city-paid benefits. Last year, voters approved a referendum, also spearheaded by Osborne, to deny benefits to part-time city employees.
Batista said he didn’t believe the proposed charter change would provide residents with a better form of government.
“I think Osborne’s whole position is wrong-headed thinking,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.