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Norton confirms dispatch with Copley, Barberton

11/15/2012 - West Side Leader
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By John Benson

NORTON — Even though it’s been in the works for more than three years, Norton City Council at the Nov. 12 meeting formally joined the Southwest Summit Council of Governments, which will open a dispatch center serving Norton, Copley and Barberton in 2013.

However, the vote on the project was contentious, as some Council members questioned why two ordinances — one approving an agreement and bylaws establishing the Southwest Summit Council of Governments and another authorizing the mayor or his designee to execute and deliver a loan agreement for a Local Government Innovation Fund Loan — being read for the first time were being passed as emergency legislation.

“Previously we were discussing the fact that both Barberton and Copley passed this,” said Councilman Scott Pelot (at large). “Unless anyone has any objections, I’d like to see us move forward with [both].”

Council members who did have objections were Charlotte Whipkey (at large) and Councilman Bill Mowery (Ward 3).

“It’s not my responsibility as to what Barberton or Copley does,” Whipkey said. “However, I do have a problem with this. It’s creating another government entity we’ll have little control over how they operate. I understand it’ll be public meetings; however, I’ve seen enough meetings in this city, even though people are permitted to attend, they are not permitted to speak. I’d like a guarantee the public can speak.”

Added Mowery, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to find out how it’s going to operate? It looks like they’ll make rules as they go along.”

While Whipkey wanted Mayor Mike Zita to ensure the public would be able to speak at the public meetings, he refused to commit to anything at this time.

“There’s nothing new to this,” said City Administrator Rick Ryland. “The joint dispatch center operates with funds approved. The structure is all three cities involved have an equal voice and everybody has equal vote. It was running for three-and-a-half years under a memorandum of understanding. It functions efficiently, and this is nothing more than formalizing what we’ve been doing.”

Mowery asked about the special room built at the Norton Fire Station to house the combined dispatch center.

Ryland said the area is underground and built like a bunker to withstand a natural disaster and any unforeseen catastrophes. He also pushed for the ordinances’ passage on emergency.

“The purpose of doing it now is in the timing,” Ryland said. “All along we were going for 2013. If we go to full three readings, that puts us at Dec. 10 and very little time to put together a budget.”

Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) attempted to cool things down by saying the dispatch center is an example of regionalization, which aims at pooling resources among cities to cut spending.

“I know it’s new and might be strange, but I’m personally proud to be on a government that’s leaning toward regionalization,” Nicolard said. “I see no point in not moving forward with this. Let’s get it off the ground.”

Law Director Peter Kostoff said the current agreement allows for Norton to withdraw from the Southwest Summit Council of Governments after 24 months by giving a 60-day notice.

The ordinance approving an agreement and bylaws establishing the Southwest Summit Council of Governments passed 5-2, with Whipkey and Mowery casting dissenting votes. As for the ordinance authorizing the mayor or his designee to execute and deliver a loan agreement for a Local Government Innovation Fund Loan, it passed 6-1, with Mowery voting against it.

Prior to the vote for the latter, Zita erupted at the two dissenting Council representatives.

“I think it’s funny we’ll sit here for 20 minutes and you’ll still get a 5-2 vote,” Zita said. “You’ll still vote ‘no’ when it’s done.”

Mowery said, “It kind of makes me leery why exactly we’re pushing so hard.”

Zita said, “We’ve been working on it for three years. I don’t know where you’ve been.”

“I’ve been here,” Mowery said.

Whipkey voted for the second ordinance.

“I will say, ‘yes,’” Whipkey said. “It’s not that I don’t believe in the dispatch center. I don’t support a government entity I don’t feel like I have that much control over.”

Other items passed unanimously included:

• an ordinance to amend the appropriations for the current expenses of Norton for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31;

• a resolution requesting the county fiscal officer to advance taxes from the tax year 2012 collections payable in 2013; and

• a resolution to determine the amount to be moved to the 128 Fund (water and sewer improvement fund) for 2012.

Regarding the recently passed fire levy, Zita said the department has been running 24-hour shifts since Nov. 7.

As for the recently passed charter amendments regarding a special election to fill a vacant Council seat, requiring all meetings to be televised and dropping the Board of Control expenditure threshold from $25,000 to $15,000, Zita said, “I would just like to remind everybody that there is a cost associated to the charter amendments.”

During the communications from the public, resident Richard Gardner said, “[Charter amendments are] the only way we have to make sure things are going straight. We don’t feel like some of you acted very fairly. I can’t wait for the next election.”

The next Council meeting is set for Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at the Safety-Administration Building, 4060 Columbia Woods Drive.

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