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Youngstown council learns public will not be silenced



Published: Wed, April 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The decision by Youngstown lawmakers to abandon their legally questionable legislative initiative regarding midterm vacancies on city council is at once proper and instructive.

It's proper because had council proceeded with the passage of the two ordinances, there would have most certainly been a full-blown court battle. The decision is instructive because it shows what can happen when citizens refuse to be intimidated by government and are willing to stand up publicly and voice their displeasure at the actions of elected officials.

Opposition: Since Thursday, when the legislative body held a special meeting to act on the two ordinances that would have given lawmakers the authority to appoint a council president or a council member in the event of a midterm vacancy, there has been a steady drumbeat of public opposition.

Not only were residents upset that the legislation was prepared by the law department and was being voted on without any discussion, debate or public hearings, but they resented the fact that Thursday's and Friday's sessions were held in the law department's conference room. Lawmakers normally hold their meetings in council chambers on the 6th Floor of City Hall. Committee meetings are held in the caucus room, adjacent to the chambers.

The passage of the ordinances were not mere formalities, as the behavior of some lawmakers would suggest. If they became law, the measures would have given council and even the mayor powers not spelled out in the city charter.

The charter may be viewed as Youngstown's constitution, and as such, it deserves to be treated with care. Changes should not be made hastily or with a wink and a nod.

The public protest to this overreaching by lawmakers was led by ACTION -- Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhood -- a grassroots advocacy group that is focusing on three main issues in the area, education, economic development and government corruption.

As the Rev. Edward Noga, a member of ACTION and pastor of St. Patrick Church on Youngstown's South Side, commented after Thursday's five-minute special council meeting: "There's something wrong here with this atmosphere. It's terrible and people should be ashamed."

Yes, there is something terribly wrong when government refuses to let the community's stakeholders be heard on a matter of such great importance. Members of council have only themselves to blame for the controversy, which resulted in Monday's decision not to adopt the ordinances.

Government shrouded in secrecy will always be viewed with suspicion and derision.




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