Here are my notes from last night’s meetings:
Charter Review proposals – Last night, the Charter Review Commission delivered its proposals to city council. There were three: 1) requiring public notice on the Internet, 2) creating four-year terms for council (currently, we have two-year terms), and 3) closing a loophole in the term limits language that currently allows a councilmember to bounce between at-large and ward seats without limitation.
Our charter currently requires council to place on the ballot any proposal from the Charter Review Commission. But I believe this provision of the charter is unconstitutional, based on Ohio Supreme Court precedent. Regardless of that legal murkiness, I think everyone agreed that council was not required to place any item on the ballot because the commission missed its August 1 deadline.
In any event, here are my thoughts on the three proposals, and what council decided to do with them:
Public notice – When I interviewed with the commission a few months ago, this was a topic that I raised. The Internet is most people’s source for information, so why wouldn’t our Charter reflect that? Council voted in favor of placing this on the ballot by a 6-1 tally (Costello).
Four-year terms – There is a split among current councilmembers as to whether our terms should be four years instead of two. I strongly believe two years is sufficient. This question was posed to the voters in 2005, and they responded, by a 58-42 margin, that they want two-year terms. I think a change to four-year terms would be bad public policy. Our politicians need to be more responsive, not less. The people need more opportunities to vote out the bad apples, not fewer. We were told that four-year terms will result in more continuity, but the proposal (when combined with the existing term limits) would have resulted in an entirely new city council taking office in 2018. We were told that two years is just too short to become acclimated, but that has not been my experience at all. It does not take a Mensa to be a city councilmember. You get two months after you’re elected to meet all of the administrators and learn the inner workings of City Hall. Presumably, you will have spent the prior few months meeting hundreds of residents and learning the issues. This was a pro-politician proposal, and council appropriately refused to suspend the three-reading rule. Consequently, it will not be on the ballot.
Term Limits Loophole – As currently written, the Charter limits a councilmember to four two-year terms (i.e., 8 years). However, the law director has opined that an at-large member could, after 8 years, move to a ward seat. Likewise, a ward councilmember could serve 8 years, and then run at-large. This would clearly defeat the voters’ purpose in instituting term limits. The Charter Review Commission appropriately identified this issue and sought to clarify that you cannot play musical chairs. Last night, I praised the commission for raising this issue, because it averted a major breach of the public’s trust in government. Council voted in favor of placing this on the ballot by a 6-1 tally (Costello).
Snowplow Program – Council revamped its senior snowplow program last night. Kudos to Service Director Nick Wren for concocting the proposal, which has two major reforms. First, it is done on a voucher basis. Any resident who meets the age/income/disability qualifications will be given 6 vouchers per winter, and they may use each voucher on any snow event of their choosing. For several reasons, this will cut down on cost and provide better customer service. Second, the sidewalk plowing has been split off. This allows us to get better quotes from vendors on the snowplow side from vendors (who are reluctant to bid because the job also includes sidewalk plowing). Instead, the sidewalk work will be done by Stow High athletes on a volunteer basis. The City of Stow will then make a donation to the athletic department for the sum of money that the athletes will have saved the city. As I told Nick last night, this is one of the most creative legislative proposals I have seen in my six years on council. The execution of the new plan may hit some snags, but it’s good that we are trying to be more efficient.
Primary Election – The primary election will be held on Sept. 8. The only issue on the ballot is law director, where two newcomers are challenging Amber Zibritosky, whom the mayor appointed to be the full-time law director upon Brian Reali’s leaving for Beachwood. … Not that anyone asked me to opine, but I think Amber has done a good job. She’s smart and diligent. I have not met either of her opponents (Chris Wells and David Drew), but I feel confident in saying that Amber deserves to pass through this stage to the general election.
Here are my notes on the happenings at council on Thursday evening:
Dollar General – We started the meeting with a solid 90 minutes of discussion on whether a developer may build a retail store and lease it to Dollar General at the corner of Fishcreek and Stow roads. The mayor and administration support it. I have heard from probably 50 people who live in that area who do not. It passed the Planning Commission by a 4-1 vote. Unfortunately, once a proposal like this passes Planning Commission, there is very little that council may legally do to stop it. This proposal will be reviewed in the coming weeks. There is some concern for the traffic that will result and other site plan matters.
Budget Update – I asked the Finance Department to give us an update on where the budget stands at mid-year. If you remember, the mayor budgeted to have a deficit of $1.1 million in 2015. First, the good news: We are beating the projections for income tax receipts by about 2.5% (or about $190K). Next, the so-so news: Our ordinary expenditures are about what we expected them to be at this point–no better and no worse. Now, the unfortunate news: The city spent $350K to settle lawsuits with former employees this year. Also, the storm water expenditures will exceed the planned amounts by about $500K. So it now appears as if the mayor’s $1.1 million deficit will be a $1.8 million deficit. Keep in mind, at the end of this year, we will only have about $3.8 million in our savings. It doesn’t take long to chew through those reserves at the breakneck pace that the mayor is on.
Fox Den – The mayor promised to veto any legislation seeking bids to lease Fox Den. During her diatribe, she claimed that the government could run the golf course better than the private sector could. This, of course, is laughable. I intend to push forward regardless. Leasing the course will ensure that it is not sold for housing during the length of the long-term lease. It will insulate the city from any operating losses. It will give the city some extra funds, in the form of rent, to reduce the debt burden and fund much-needed infrastructure (roads, storm water improvements). However, leasing Fox Den is bad news for the mayor’s special interests–namely, the people who get free golf for life because they were shareholders of the company that sold Fox Den to the city. Let me be completely clear: We should have absolutely no concern for whether these people, who sold the course to Stow at a 200% premium, get to golf for free.