WARREN – One of the first steps needed in an attempt to change Warren’s government from statutory to charter was completed Tuesday as council and members of the public heard from an attorney in a Zoom presentation.
Paul Rutter, an attorney with Bricker & Eckler, described a charter as providing the framework for municipal government.
“A charter is roughly comparable to a constitution, but its primary focus is the operation and procedure of municipal governance,” Rutter said. “Charter governance allows citizens to choose their own form of government.”
To establish a charter, two elections must be held in the city within two years, Rutter said.
The first step is for council to pass an ordinance submitting the question “Shall a commission be chosen to frame a charter?” and setting an election date.
There are two ways to start the process, he noted, either obtaining two-thirds vote by council or through petition by 10 percent of the electors, which make passage of the charter commission mandatory.
Charter commissions must have 15 members, and council members are prohibited from serving on it.
Rutter said charters can be more a more efficient, flexible and responsive than the statutory form by allowing citizens to distribute municipal power as they see fit.
“Currently there are three forms of municipal government: mayor-council, council-manager and mayor-council-administrator,” he noted. “Under mayor-council, there can be a strong-mayor and weak-mayor form.”
A strong mayor has the ability to appoint department heads and members of boards and commissions without council approval, has veto power over council legislation and has primary responsibility for supervising municipal operation, Rutter said.
Under a weak mayor, Rutter said the elected mayor serves equally with other elected officials, including auditor, treasurer and law director. Council has approval over the appointments of department heads and members of boards and commissions. A weak-mayor form does not give the mayor veto power.
Warren, which is a statutory city, currently is a weak-mayor, strong-council city, Rutter said.
“I think it is more accountable,” Mayor Doug Franklin said. “Citizens are able to choose their law director, auditor and treasurer. I have to work with them. “
Under the council-manager, there is not an elected mayor. The president of council typically is given the title of mayor. Council appoints a city manager – generally with professional qualifications – to operate the day-to-day function of the city.
Franklin said he has seen previous efforts to change Warren from it current statutory government, where it follows the Ohio Revised Code to a statutory form.
“Usually this type of initiative is generated by public interest,” Franklin said. “What is different in this effort is it seems to be inspired by some members of council.”
Franklin emphasized the success of a city is not built on the form or government, but on the quality of its leaders.
“That’s what I’ve always believed, and it holds true today,” Franklin said.
Councilman Ken MacPherson, D-at Large, has been a proponent of changing to a charter form of government because he said there will be more accountability.
“This will be a long process, and this outlining of what a charter is one of the first steps that needs to be done,” MacPherson said.
Paul Yannucci, a city resident who attends most council meetings, said he wants to learn more about charters.
“I want to know the reason why people are for it,” Yannucci said. “Why they want change.”
Yannucci said he generally is supportive of the way the current administration and council has been operating.
“They kept the city above water and financially in the black during a time when there were other communities going underwater,” Yannucci said. “I want to understand why supporters of charters want to change.”
NEED TO CHANGE
James Walker, who has advocating changing to a charter form for more than a decade, says change is needed.
“It is not about changing the people, but changing how we are governed,” Walker said. “None of us chose this form of government. This will give us a chance to vote on how we want to city to operate. “
Walker said some council members have served between 20 and 30 years.
“Have our lives been made better or worse because of what they’ve done while in office?” he questioned. “We have council members who have never been to a budget committee meeting.”
Walker argues current leadership has mismanaged the city, like with snow-plowing issues.
“That should not happen,” Walker said.
Former longtime Mayor Dan Sferra emphasized changing to a charter will not change the amount of service city residents receive.
“When you have only 20 people working in the operations department, nothing is going to change the quality of service provided because there is only so much that number of people can do,” Sferra said. “Roads are not going to be plowed any faster.”
Councilman Andrew Herman, D-2nd Ward, said he wants to learn more about charters.
“Everyone likes the idea of change,” Herman said. “We have to be careful how we do change. It must be done correctly. “