NORTON: Residents now have only three charter amendments to vote on this November.
The Summit County Board of Elections has tossed out a proposed amendment that would have allowed City Council to remove administrative department heads.
The amendment would have meant a department head could be fired for any reason with a majority vote of council. The positions named in the charter amendment included the city’s administrative officer, solicitor, directors of finance, public safety, public service, personnel, community development and the municipal engineer. Board officials said two sets of numbers of the city’s code were given for the same amendment on Issue 31 – Section 5.03 and Section 5.09. This could lead to confusion, the county said, among voters.
“It was a typo by our attorney who made a mistake, it can happen,” said Dennis Pierson, who is part of the grass-roots organization that sponsored the amendment. “We’ll give them [the board of elections] the benefit of the doubt, but rest assured the replacement of administrative people will be back on the ballot in May.”
Council President Don Nicolard said department heads are appointed by the mayor with the approval of council.
“These positions serve at the pleasure of the mayor and terminations are determined by the mayor,” he said. “This amendment would take away the mayor’s right to veto.”
The three remaining charter amendment changes are also backed by the grass-roots organization.
Issue 28 would change the way vacant council seats are replaced. Vacancies are currently appointed by council.
Pierson’s group wants the replacement of vacancies on City Council to be voted on, allowing those within a ward or the entire city in the case of an at-large seat to vote.
Nicolard said any special election to fill vacancies on council would cost the city about $14,300.
The issue was formed after John Conklin was appointed by the majority of council to replace Ward 4 Councilman Ken Braman, who resigned on Aug. 15. Five residents applied for the position, but the residents at the meeting were not happy with council’s selection. Conklin was on council in 2000 when he was appointed to fill the vacant Ward 4 seat previously. He won the seat in 2001, but was defeated in the primary by Braman in 2005.
Another amendment, Issue 29, would bring back televised meetings.
“They should broadcast City Council meetings. That will give a lot more openness to it and transparency,” Pierson said. “I think the people in this community deserve it.”
Nicolard said televised meetings would mean hiring a cameraman rather than the old way of taping the meeting and running the VHS tape to the cable station for rebroadcast.
“Our latest survey on Time-Warner Cable shows only 54 percent of our citizens have cable, so however much money we spend televising these meetings we are doing it for 54 percent of the population. What happens when it drops even further, say 45 percent,” Nicolard said. “Are we obliged to make 100 percent of the people pay for 45 percent of the people to see a council meeting.”
Pierson said the city collects cable franchise fees, which would pay for the televised meetings.
The third amendment, Issue 30, would reduce the amount of spending by the board of control from $25,000 back to $15,000, the same amount in the charter eight years ago.
“This amendment is to force these people to bring any financial dollar issues before the council so at least the people can hear about it or at least there will be some minimal public discussion,” said Pierson. “After all it is their money.”
Nicolard said the expenditure limit was raised by ordinance to be in line with the state statute, which is $24,999. He said lowering the amount and needing a super majority of two thirds of the council vote will hold up city services.
“If two members of council vote ‘no’ nothing happens,” he said. “It’s an attempt to hamstring the administration.” The board of control is made up of the mayor, city administrator, council president, vice president of council and finance director.
“What all these amendments are really about is a blatant attempt to strip the administration of any power that they have, and they don’t have that much power to begin with, and to allow council to micromanage every phase of city government,” Nicolard said. “And all of these will cost the city a huge amount of money.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.