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Norton voters to decide charter amendments

4/10/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

NORTON — City voters will be asked to consider two amendments to Norton’s charter in the May 6 Primary Election.

Issue No. 9 concerns the current residency requirement for the city’s administrative officer, while Issue No. 10 proposes changing the limits for competitive bidding for city projects.

Mayor Mike Zita said ditching the residency requirement is something that came to light as the city began searching for a new administrative officer in the past few months. Valerie Wax Carr, of Cuyahoga Falls, who previously served as the service director there, was appointed to the position on an interim basis in February.

“There was some discussion on the removal of the residency requirement even before we put the new administrative officer in place,” Zita said. “I believe by opening that up, it will allow us to come up with the best candidate without restrictions.”

Zita said the residency requirement likely would not hold up in court, as it has been declared unconstitutional in other cases.

Wax Carr took the place of Richard Ryland, who resigned from the administrator position in November. She is considered on an interim basis for six months because the charter currently states that after six months, the person holding the job must be a Norton resident.

Zita said he isn’t sure how long or why the residency requirement has been in effect, but he added the administrative officer is the only nonelected position in the city that has such a requirement.

“Valerie is there with us now, and it’s my hope she’ll stay in the position,” Zita said. “It will depend on the outcome. Whether it’s her or somebody else, by opening it up it will allow us to find the best.”

Norton City Council unanimously voted to put the residency requirement on the ballot on Feb. 24. There was some disagreement about the other charter amendment on the ballot, however.

If approved at the polls, Issue No. 10 would require bidding for contracts of $25,000 or more. The proposed legislation also specifies the city’s Board of Control and two-thirds of Council would need to approve contracts of $25,000 or greater. Further, the proposal asks that contracts costing between $10,000 and $25,000 be awarded only with approval from the Board of Control and a simple majority of Council.

At-large Councilmen Scott Pelot and Dennis McGlone both voted against the proposed legislation to put the item on the ballot, but it was approved 5-2.

According to Norton Law Director Justin Markey, when a previous charter amendment regarding bidding passed in 2012, it removed the city’s bidding limits. That meant that the city now follows the Ohio Revised Code, which requires competitive bidding only in cases of more than $50,000.

Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey (at large), who favors the amendment, said the removal of the requirement was done unintentionally on the part of the citizens who initiated the charter change at the time.

“I truly believe it was an oversight,” she said.

Whipkey said the amendment, which would require a lower amount than the state does for bidding, would be a positive thing for the city.

“It makes them a little more accountable when they go to spend it,” she said.

But Zita said he’s not sure that the amendment is necessary.

“It’s stated purpose was to save money, but I’m not so sure it will do that,” Zita said. “It is my hope that the city will comply with the will of the people. This may have some unintended consequences. It’s to save money, but it may cause some projects to be more expensive.”

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