Residents objected to council's handling of a downtown redevelopment project.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NEWTON FALLS -- City council has squelched petitions that could have allowed voters to overturn an ordinance rehiring its manager and written his position out of the charter.
By a 3-2 vote Monday, council members decided not to forward a petition to the Trumbull County Board of Elections calling for a referendum on their decision to renew manager Robert Eberhart's contract by emergency ordinance last month.
The vote came after an executive session, during which Richard Schwartz, the city solicitor, recommended council reject the petition because emergency ordinances are not subject to referendums. They can only be challenged in court, he said.
Generally, before an ordinance can go into effect in Newton Falls, council must approve it at two meetings then wait 30 days unless the measure is declared to be an emergency. In that case, the measure goes into effect immediately after one meeting, Schwartz said.
Eberhart got a new three-year contract about six months before his current contract was to expire.
"From the context of structure, the ordinance was done properly," said Schwartz. "Whether or not it was an emergency, that is up to a judge to decide."
Council also voted not to accept a petition calling for changes to the village charter because it did not have sufficient signatures.
There were 145 signatures on the petition, which called for the elimination of the village manager's job, an expansion of mayoral responsibilities and pay, and the addition of two councilmen and a council president.
That number is well above 10 percent of voters in the last Newton Falls election but far short of 10 percent of the number of registered voters. That's the crucial number to get a charter amendment on the ballot, Schwartz said.
"Then the secretary of state will have to change his forms," said Bud Fetterolf, one of the people behind the petitions and also a petition drive that prompted an Aug. 6 recall election for two city councilmen.
Fetterolf said he plans to complain to both the county and state elections officials.
The brief council meeting was followed by a long public hearing on the village's downtown redevelopment project, popularly known as Streetscape.
At its last meeting, council passed the first reading of an ordinance to enter into a contract with engineers E.G. & amp;G., of Akron, to manage the $2.7 million streets, sidewalk, utilities and lighting program along Broad Street.
Questions from the public were nearly unanimously hostile toward the project and project engineers. People complained that memorial park benches will be removed and that the whole effort is too expensive and unnecessary.
Many of the complaints, however, were directed toward officials for not adequately explaining Streetscape.
"I'm against it now, but I wouldn't have been if I knew from the beginning what was going on," said Elizabeth Welsko, who owns the Amvets building on Broad Street.
She also complained that it's not fair that her property is to be assessed more for the project than some neighbors' properties.
Mayor Patrick Layshock complained that it's nearly impossible to understand the letter the village mailed to property owners, supposedly explaining how they can protest their assessment.
"I was highly offended by the makeup of that letter," he said.
Council is to have the second of three readings on the ordinance to go ahead with Streetscape at its next meeting.
If the ordinance passes, Fetterolf, an outspoken opponent of the project, promises another referendum petition will be in the works.