Akron Council term changes to appear on November ballot
DOWNTOWN AKRON — According to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, proposed changes to the city’s charter that would have all of Akron City Council up for election at once and limit raises for the mayor and Council members would benefit the city’s residents in four ways.
It would save $150,000 to $200,000 in taxpayer dollars by reducing election costs, increase accountability of elected officials by having at-large and ward Council seats elected at the same time, allow four-year terms for ward Council members and put a cap on raises received by the mayor and Council members, he said.
Akron City Council ward representatives now serve two-year terms and at-large Council members serve four-year terms. Both are up for election in 2013. The proposal would make all elected Council members’ terms at that time into two-year terms. Then, in 2015, all Council members would be elected to four-year terms.
The first election cycle for ward Council members to be eliminated, and thus produce savings to the city, would come in 2017, said Plusquellic.
At the July 30 meeting, Akron City Council members approved 10-3 placing the item on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot for voters to decide. Council members Bruce Kilby (D-Ward 2), Linda Omobien (D-at large) and Michael Williams (D-at large) cast the dissenting votes.
Council members in other major Ohio cities, including Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo, all already serve four-year terms, according to Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large).
Plusquellic said he believes ward Council members, in their current two-year terms, are “consumed for a full year of campaigning” after a first year in office.
In 2006, 60 percent of voters defeated a similar proposal to increase term limits for ward Council members, noted Williams.
In 1999, the idea for four-year terms also was considered by Council but did not reach the ballot, according to Fusco.
Akron’s charter was written to allow at-large Council members the opportunity to run for mayor without giving up their seats, said Kilby.
Kilby also argued he does not see the logic in waiting until 2015 to have all the Council members elected at once, when the 2013 elections could provide the same opportunity.
In addition, since the city wouldn’t save money by eliminating any elections until 2017, the cost-savings angle doesn’t make sense, he said.
“The savings is very miniscule. There are other ways to save money,” he added.
Plusquellic countered Kilby’s points, stating having all Council members elected in 2015 would be more democratic, making it more difficult for Council members to “leap frog” to other political offices.
As the process is now, Council members are able to run for another office from a “safe seat” without having to resign, he noted.
“I happen to think that’s not a good system of government,” he said.
The proposed legislation “does not in any way, shape or form eliminate the possibility of anyone running in any position that they so choose,” said Plusquellic.
Omobien said she does not feel it is good governance to have all of City Council’s officers up for re-election at the same time.
Also, Omobien pointed out, it is not clear why the Charter Review Commission, conducted in 2010, did not propose the charter changes.
While not opposed to four-year terms for ward Council members, staggering the terms so that the whole body would not be elected the same year would work better, she said.
“I don’t believe this is about strictly saving taxpayer dollars,” as there seems to be a “personal, political agenda,” at play, she said.
The other part of the ballot question to appear before voters would base raises for Council members and the mayor on the average amount a private industry employee receives as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Without question, this will save money,” said Plusquellic.
Resident Vicki Armstrong questioned why the term and salary changes were put together to be voted on, when they are two separate issues.
Plusquellic said that items are paired because they occur together in the charter.
Williams said part of his reasoning for opposing the item is he believes the two items should be decided separately as well.
Prior to Council’s vote, Williams made a motion for Council to take more time to consider the legislation, which was defeated by a 9-4 vote, with support from Council members Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7), Kilby and Omobien.
In other action, Council approved:
• an ordinance to renew funding for after-school programs at 27 elementary schools and three middle schools within Akron Public Schools (APS) during the 2012-13 school year. The city of Akron will contribute $185,000 to the program, which is the same amount of funding as last year, said Councilman Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10);
• an ordinance amending the times allowed for door-to-door peddling and solicitation. Previously, the Code of Ordinances specified “sunset” as the cutoff time for peddling and solicitation. According to the new legislation, it designates 9 p.m. as the end time, except during daylight saving time, when peddlers and solicitors must end at 8 p.m.;
• a resolution opposing the renewal of liquor permits for the Embassy Club at 2200 Romig Road in West Akron, now pending before the Division of Liquor Control. According to Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9), there have been 83 calls for service to the Akron Police Department during the past 18 months for the nightclub. The resolution was in motion even before a recent homicide took place there, Freeman noted.
• a resolution urging support for a 7.9-mill levy for operating funds for the Akron Public Schools to appear before voters Nov. 6; and
• a resolution expressing sympathy to the family of Mychal Jamel “Mykie” Clayton, who died July 22 after a battle against sickle cell disease. Mykie was the sickle cell poster child for the state of Ohio and ambassador for the “Mychal Clayton Annual Sickle Cell Walk,” according to the legislation.
Akron City Council will be on break in August. The next Akron City Council meeting is Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, located on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings begin at 2 p.m., also in Council Chambers.
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