Warren mulls government change

They’ll take the issue of charter government to the people.



WARREN — Is the city ready to change how it governs itself?

During an hourlong meeting Monday, council members and other city officials discussed a statutory form of government the city currently has versus a charter form that Niles, Cortland and Youngstown have adopted.

One point that everyone agreed upon is that more information about a charter government is needed.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd, introduced the legislation for a charter or home-rule form of government because “the city is going to hell.” He believes that a change is needed to better the city.

The legislation was brought to council five years ago, and lawmakers voted against it.

Novak said within the past five years, the city’s population has decreased and jobs have been lost, and perhaps a change is needed in how the city governs itself.

Councilwoman Sue Hartman, D-7th, voted against the charter government before because she said the information presented was incomplete and not factual.

Law Director Greg Hicks said the main difference between statutory form of government and a charter is that a charter government is driven by the grass-roots community.

Voters have to vote yes for the charter government and at the same time elect 15 people to be on a charter commission.

Novak said he has spoken to many people who are interested in being part of a charter commission.

The charter commission writes the city’s constitution with help from the law department because certain guidelines have to be followed, the law director said.

The charter commission has one year to prepare a proposed charter and submit it to a vote of the people. If it is adopted, it becomes the basic framework for that municipality’s government.

“There is a lot to do to change a form of government,” Hicks added, “and we should not do it in haste.”

The problem Hicks, council members and citizens see is that not everything can be done for it to appear on the March 2008 primary ballot as proposed by Novak.

Council President Robert Marchese suggested to council that meetings are held to inform residents about what a charter government is and see if the voters want to change the current system.

Resident Jim McFarland said council needs to take the time to diligently look at a change of government. He said everyone needs to understand what a charter government is, so council can educate the public.

“I don’t think the public realizes they have an option,” McFarland said.

Voters have the final say if they want a charter government. Council can only put it on the ballot, but the public has to agree to the change.

“It is supposed to be bottom driven, not top driven,” Hicks said.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said it is important to keep the dialogue open to unify the city.

“Each city department is its own little island,” she said. She added the first step is to read about charter government and understand it.

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