Akron’s charter language will appear on the November ballot as it was approved by the council, despite the objections of an Akron councilman and several citizens about its wording.
The Summit County elections board voted 3-1 Tuesday to allow the language to stand, with GOP member Alex Arshinkoff siding with the two Democratic board members. Ray Weber, the other Republican member, cast the no vote.
Weber sparred with Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who urged the board members to approve the language as it stood. Weber questioned if the wording stepped into advocacy and fully explained what the amendment would do.
Plusquellic said he thinks it was appropriate for the amendment, which would increase the terms of ward council members and limit the raises for council and the mayor, to emphasize the savings. He estimates the changes, which would put all of Akron’s elected officials on the same cycle and eliminate the need for off-year elections, would save $150,000 to $200,000 per election.
“That’s as important of a task as anything out there,” Plusquellic said, referring to saving money.
“I did not think of you as a liberal big spender,” he continued, addressing Weber.
“That’s the difference between you and me,” Weber responded. “I’m making sure voters aren’t disserved or misled.”
Weber added that he is more conservative than Plusquellic, a Democrat.
The amendment, which the 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 City 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 the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
The ballot language reads, “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?”
Akron Councilman Bruce Kilby objected to the wording of the amendment, asking the board to consider changing it. He is concerned about its emphasis on budget savings and information that wasn’t in the summary, such as explaining how the net result will be all council members and the mayor running at the same time. Several citizens voiced concerns about the wording of the amendment during city council and board meetings.
Tim Gorbach, a Democratic board member, said the amendment “says what it’s going to do and that’s what voters need to see.”
“It goes beyond saying what it will do,” Weber said.
“That’s your opinion,” Gorbach responded.
Arshinkoff said he thinks the board’s action should set a precedent for using summaries of amendments, rather than the full amendment. He said the board hasn’t been consistent in this practice. He had previously suggested this might be the best course for the Akron amendment.
Kilby, who attended the last board meeting but wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting, was disappointed by the board’s decision. He said several citizens upset about the wording are considering taking the fight to court, challenging whether the wording steps into electioneering.
“Let them decide whether this is appropriate,” he said.
Plusquellic, who provided the board with examples of summaries for other charter and constitutional amendments, was pleased the board allowed the language to stand, though he wasn’t happy about his exchange with Weber.
“It’s frustrating when someone wants to pick a battle,” he said.
In other business, the board:
•?Voted to purchase additional security cameras to install in the board’s Grant Street office in areas where in-person absentee voters will complete their ballots. Director Joe Masich said he expects the expense to be under $6,000.
Gorbach said the money will come from the $50,000 the county planned to give the board for an outside early voting location. Secretary of State Jon Husted sided with Republican board members in favor of having early voting at the board’s main office.
The board asked Masich and Deputy Director Kim Zurz to develop a plan for where early voting will be done and any provisions that need to be made to accommodate voters. Early voting begins Oct. 2.
•?Discussed, but didn’t yet adopt, a policy on public speaking. Board members are considering allowing members of the public to speak for up to three minutes per topic on the board’s agenda. Those who wanted to speak longer could make a written request to the board before-hand.
Husted ordered the board to adopt a policy after the board deadlocked on whether to allow the public to speak. The board plans to further discuss this issue at an upcoming meeting.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.