Youngstown lawmakers snub residents on charter changes

By deciding that only four of the 17 charter amendments recommended by a citizens committee will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, members of Youngstown City Council delivered an unambiguous message to the voters: We don’t trust your judgment.

Why would the lawmakers not want voters to have a say on what the city’s governing document, the Home Rule Charter, should contain? Think self-preservation.

Rather than acting on behalf of the people for the common good, members of council have put themselves first. For that, they need to be taught a lesson.

The 11-member charter review committee appointed by the mayor and council should view the lawmakers’ decision to place only four of their recommended charter changes on the ballot as a commentary on their abilities and competence. It seems they were nothing more than pawns in council’s elaborate game of “fool the public.”

Working with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, Jerome Williams, the panel’s chairman, and his colleagues should find a way of placing all 17 charter amendments on the ballot in 2013. The chamber and this newspaper strongly supported giving city residents the chance to vote yes or no on each amendment.

While we agreed with many of them, we had misgivings about others, but we were of the opinion that council should not pick and choose, given that several of the proposed changes directly affected the legislative body.

Last week, by a 7-0 vote, council decided to place on the ballot proposals that would create a conflict-of-interest policy, change the starting and ending dates of daylight time (which the city already does), eliminate term limits for mayor and change the language on redistricting the seven wards of the city.

Among the amendments proposed by the charter review committee that were not adopted is one that would designate council members as part-time public servants required to work at least 32 hours a week. Their pay would be based on the average “full time” salary — 40 hours a week — of the residents of Youngstown.

The committee determined that the average full-time salary is $25,902 a year. Therefore, members of council would be paid $20,721 annually, compared with the $27,817.24 they now earn — with full benefits. The president of council, who now makes $28,11.24, plus benefits, would be paid $21,966.

Even with the reductions, it’s ample compensation for part-time work.

The amendment would also have made the benefits provided by the taxpayers to council members secondary to those they are able to receive through other sources, such as retirement, employment or a spouse.

Financial windfall

It is clear that lawmakers weren’t willing to lose the financial windfall they pocket for their part-time work, which is why they decided not to allow voters to have a say.

Article 18, Section 9, of the Ohio Constitution states that submission of a charter amendment to the voters may be made upon petitions signed by 10 percent of the electors of the municipality. If the petitioners submit sufficient petitions to the city council clerk, council is then required to pass the ordinance submitting the proposed charter amendment to the board of elections.

Members of council have clearly demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to act in the best interest of the residents of Youngstown.

People power must drive the changes to the charter.

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