Youngstown charter changes face hazy future

By David Skolnick


The chairman of the city council committee considering the 17 proposed charter amendments recommended by an 11-member panel said there is no sense of immediacy to have any of them on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“It’s too premature to say voters will see any of the proposals” in November, said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th and chairman of council’s legislation committee.

Shortly after the charter-review committee — which spent about 41/2 months meeting to discuss potential changes to the city charter — gave council’s legislation committee its proposals at a May 29 meeting, Ray said he asked the city’s law department to look at the “legalities” of the recommendations.

That review should be finished early next week with the legislation committee possibly meeting Thursday to discuss the proposed amendments, Ray said.

Some concerns with the proposed amendments are that they may not be permissible because of conflicts with employee union contracts or existing law and that some couldn’t take effect for years, he said.

Council, which makes the final decision on all charter amendments, has to submit ballot proposals to the Mahoning County Board of Elections by Aug. 8 for the November election. Ray said he plans to ask the elections board to have someone attend the legislation committee meeting to discuss ballot procedures.

But Ray said council isn’t in any rush to meet that Aug. 8 deadline.

“We have plenty of time to get [issues] on the ballot in future years,” he said. “You don’t want to put too much on there. We need to assess” what will happen after the law department’s review.

Council members have objected to proposals that directly affect them.

Those include reducing their annual pay, making it more difficult for them to receive medical benefits from the city, eliminating the president of council as an elected position, changing to nonpartisan elections, and requiring council committee and general meetings to start no earlier than 6 p.m.

When asked if putting none or just a few of the proposals on the November ballot could be called a “white-wash” by council, Ray said, “It’s not. It’s not. The process does take some time. We should not rush changes to the charter. We want to give this serious consideration. These are serious changes, and we take them seriously. We’re not going to race to get things on the ballot just to get them on there.”

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, said 17 proposals “is absolutely too many. It’s totally ridiculous. People aren’t going to stay in the booth and vote on all that stuff. It’s ridiculous. Three or four would be reasonable.”

Gillam said the 11-member charter-review committee — three chosen by the mayor and eight others selected by the seven council members and the council president — put in a lot of work. But rather than go through the entire charter, they should have selected a few things for the ballot, she said.

Jerome Williams, chairman of the charter-review committee, said: “It bothers me if they don’t put any of them on the ballot. It’s disheartening to work for five months as a team and learn that none may get on the ballot. We’d be very shocked if none of the recommendations are on the ballot. It doesn’t seem feasible to me to put none on the ballot after we followed the guidelines we were given [by the mayor to have the recommendations done before June 1.] I can understand four or five this time and then have others on future ballots.”

Scott Schulick, the committee’s vice chairman who was appointed by Ray, said council should permit voters to determine the fate of the proposed charter amendments.

“It would be a shame if the hard work of the committee was rejected by council, and residents weren’t given proper consideration,” he said. “I hope council takes the high ground.”

Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, said five to seven recommendations on the November ballot would work.

“I think 17 is an awful lot to put on there,” he said. “People will just blow them off” if there are that many.

Also, the city has to make sure that whatever is put on the ballot can withstand any legal challenges, Swierz said.

Paul Drennen, D-5th, is the only member who supports putting all the recommendations are the ballot as long as the law department determines they are all legal.

“It’s cumbersome to have that many on the ballot, and I don’t agree with every one of them,” he said. “But I think they should be on the ballot. Council shouldn’t say no. Let the voters decide. If voters disagree, they can vote no or not vote at all. If the law department says, for example, 14 are good, then we should put 14 on the ballot.”

Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd and a member of the legislation committee, said he doesn’t have a set number of recommendations for the ballot.

“I don’t think we need to overload the ballot,” he said. “We need to prioritize them by importance, and we can come back next year” with more.

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