Akron voters will decide — again — in the November election if ward council members should serve four-year, rather than two-year terms.
Despite the objections of some council members and residents, council voted 10-3 Monday to put a charter amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make this long-debated change.
Council members Bruce Kilby, Linda Omobien and Mike Williams voted against it.
The amendment also would change Akron’s election cycles so that ward and at-large council members and the mayor would eventually run 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.
Voters rejected a proposed charter change in 2006 that would have boosted the terms for ward council members from two to four years. The idea dates back to at least 1990 when council considered it, but didn’t get enough support to put the amendment on the ballot.
Echoing the concerns of several residents who spoke during a committee meeting Monday, Williams said he thinks the two issues — on ward council members’ terms and capping raises for council and the mayor — should be separate ballot issues. He proposed, but didn’t get enough support, for delaying Monday’s vote and crafting separate charter amendments.
“They want to hide one behind the other,” he said.
Mayor Don Plusquellic, who proposed the charter changes, along with Council President Marco Sommerville, said the issues need to be tied because of where they are in the charter. Plusquellic says the amendment would save Akron money because it would cut down on the number of elections. He estimates the savings at $150,000 to $200,000 per election that no longer would be needed.
“I think this is clearly a change that saves money,” Plusquellic said.
Sommerville, who represents Ward 3 and has long favored boosting the terms, said ward council members will vote on tough issues in the first year of their terms but try to avoid conflict in the second year because they are already running for re-election.
He pointed out that Williams voted in favor of putting an increase in the terms for ward council members on the ballot when he was a ward councilman in 1990 and then didn’t support it in 2006 when he was at-large.
Williams said he was a rookie councilman when he initially backed the change, but his viewpoint shifted after he had served in both council roles.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said.
Akron currently has 10 ward and three at-large council members. The mayor and ward council members run in one election, with the ward and at-large council members on the ballot two years later.
A Beacon Journal survey of four other large cities in Ohio found that they vary in the length of time council members serve and whether they run at the same time as the mayor.
Under the charter change, all Akron council members — ward and at-large — would be elected to two-year terms next year. All council members and the mayor then would be on the ballot again in 2015, vying for four-year terms.
Kilby, who voted against placing the amendment on the ballot, said he thinks the terms of council and the mayor were purposely staggered in the charter to permit at-large councilmen to run for mayor, as Williams did last year.
“This provides a check and balance of abuse of power by the mayor, whoever he might be,” Kilby said of the current election cycles. “Elections are important. We want to save money. What’s the cost of democracy?”
Linda Omobien, an at-large council member, said she thinks the charter change should have come from the charter review commission, which meets every 10 years to consider charter changes and most recently convened last year.
“I don’t believe this is about saving taxpayer money,” she said during Monday’s council meeting, garnering applause from the audience. “This seems to be a personal, political agenda.”
Plusquellic said there are “ideas that need to be put on the ballot when they are timely.” He noted that several residents at the Rules Committee meeting Monday afternoon have been involved in efforts to put charter changes on the ballot.
Several of those residents raised concerns about the latest proposed amendment.
Resident Vicki Armstrong said she thinks the issues should be separate because she would vote for one change and not the other.
Citizen Willie Smith said Akron could save more money by eliminating three council positions — either ward or at-large — which he thinks is warranted because of the city’s decreased population.
“Why do we need such big government now?” Smith asked. “Let’s save money.”
Plusquellic, who has previously been on the opposing side of Smith on issues, said he agrees with him on this one.
In other business, council, which is about to go on its summer break, voted to:
• Hire TRIAD Research Group to help redraw the council ward lines, as required after the census. The Cleveland company will be paid a maximum of $20,000.
• Limit door-to-door soliciting to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. when daylight-saving time is in effect and until 8 p.m. in the winter. This is in line with a recent appellate court decision.
• Continue the same level of funding to the Akron after-school program as the city provided last year. This program provides elementary and middle school students with enrichment activities and tutoring. The city again will provide $185,000.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.