NORTH CANTON: Voters will be asked Nov. 5 if they believe the community would be better served with a full-time mayor.
Issue 13 asks voters to agree that North Canton’s mayor should be required to “devote his entire time and effort during regular business hours and all other times necessary” to the business of the city, thereby making the job full time.
Although the issue might sound like a good idea on the surface, it isn’t, North Canton’s seven-member council said last week when it voted unanimously to oppose it. Members reasoned that if the initiative passes, it could increase costs in the city and decrease efficiency.
Mayor David Held agrees.
“This issue doesn’t change the mayor’s job at all. The mayor is responsible at all times for the daily operation of the city. Every decision we make is to improve the city’s effectiveness and cost efficiency,” Held said.
According to North Canton’s charter, the mayor is recognized as the official and ceremonial head of the city. He or she makes appointments, including that of a city administrator who in turn appoints managers to handle day-to-day business.
Held, executive director of the Stark-Tuscarawas Wayne Joint Solid Waste Management District, said he doesn’t know why Issue 13 petitioners want to give a mayor more time to do what he manages to accomplish each day while holding down another full-time job.
As an example, the mayor points to the recent announcement that the state Bureau of Workers Compensation will bring 110 jobs to the city when it moves into the Hoover Building next year. The move will mean $73,000 in additional income taxes.
“Under this present charter, we continue to rebuild North Canton’s economy,” Held said. “We’ve managed to bring in 1,200 new jobs into the Hoover facility despite a very poor national economy.”
The change in the charter language, initiated by former Councilman Chuck Osborne, was placed on the ballot after he submitted 952 valid signatures to the Stark County Board of Elections in July.
If voters approve the issue, it would take effect December 2015.
The change only requires the mayor to be physically in the city 40 hours a week, Held said.
“This is not going to add any duties and responsibilities to the mayor’s job. It only restricts that person to be available to work an eight-hour day. What about the rest of the time?” asked Held, who said he is available to constituents in person, by phone or email all hours of the day.
Council President Jon Snyder, who has held his Ward 4 seat for 20 years, said he has worked with five administrations and never encountered a mayor who was not responsive to residents’ needs.
“We are fortunate at this time to have a very active mayor and a very, very strong administrator, so we are getting quite the return on our investment,” Snyder said.
Held questioned if the city could find a qualified candidate for mayor who is willing to work a 40-hour work week for $15,000 a year — the amount currently set by the council for the position.
Osborne said the change would create a cost savings to the city by eliminating an assistant administrator’s position that currently is unfilled.
“What I would envision is salary and benefits of about $90,000 for a full-time mayor and salary and benefits of $60,000 to 70,000 for the city administrator — totaling about $160,000 for the two positions,” Osborne said. “The city’s financial situation should be a guide, as City Council would set these salaries sometime before the 2015 election if voters approve the amendment to the charter.”
But North Canton Law Director Tim Fox said the council is under no obligation to increase the mayor’s salary if Issue 13 passes.
“There is no requirement for council to amend that salary. Our charter simply requires that council sets the salaries for elected officials,” Fox said.
Osborne said he believes the council’s opposition to Issue 13 is a struggle for power.
“North Canton’s charter, originally adopted in 1960, was structured to create a strong council-weak mayor balance of power. The idea that the balance of power might shift to a weakening of the power of City Council and to a stronger mayor is distorting City Council’s judgment on the merits of Issue 13,” Osborne said.
Snyder said Osborne and other petition circulators are making assumptions about what the council can and cannot do. Any change in the duties of either the mayor or administrator must go before voters for approval, he said.
“That’s what makes this so ludicrous. The mayor’s duties can only be changed by changing the charter,” Snyder said.
Osborne says the charter gives the mayor the same powers as those of any full-time mayor, and he or she need only to assume those duties. Fox disagrees.
Snyder said that if Issue 13 becomes law, it will upset the balance provided in the charter, creating a domino effect and requiring additional changes. He, Held and Fox each said that if voters believe a change is warranted, it should be done in a comprehensive way, taking into account how each change relates to the law.
“If it is the wish of the people that we have a full-time mayor, what I hope what would happen, honestly, is that they form a Charter Review Commission and they would thoroughly go through it considering every aspect of the charter and every aspect of the financial impact,” Snyder said.
North Canton’s charter provides for a 15-member committee to review the document every 10 years. The next commission will be seated in 2017.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.