If members of Youngstown City Council have the audacity to replace the judgment of the voters with their own on the proposed changes to the Home Rule Charter, they will learn the meaning of the word “referendum.”
And, what the referendum yields will be a lot more painful than simply letting the city’s residents make the initial call on the charter amendments.
A citizens committee of 11 members appointed by Mayor Charles Sammarone and city council spent several months studying the charter and coming up with changes to reflect the Youngstown of today. It is a city with a shrinking population, seeming intractable crime problems, a stagnant economy and a school system that is under academic watch by the state.
The panel held public meetings at which individuals representing various segments of the community were encouraged to provide input.
As a result, 17 recommendations were submitted to city council, which will select the ones to appear on the November general-election ballot.
There are strong indications that lawmakers will pick and choose, thus depriving the voters of the opportunity to decide on all 17.
Why the reluctance on the part of the elected officials to trust the judgment of the people? For the simple reason that several of the proposed changes are directed at city council and the mayor’s office. If approved, they would send a clear message to the lawmakers: You’re being overpaid for the part-time work that you do.
One amendment would formally designate council members to be 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.
Members of the charter review committee concluded that lawmakers should be paid $20,721 a year based on the average full-time salary in the city of $25,902.
The opposition to this amendment in council becomes crystal clear when the current salaries are considered: A member of council earns $27,817.24 and receives full benefits; the council president makes $28,117.24 and gets benefits. The president’s salary would be reduced to $21,966.
Still a substantial amount of money for what these elected officials do — which many residents have concluded is not much.
As for benefits, if a member of council is able to receive them through other sources, they would take precedence over what the city offers.
In other words, Youngstown’s taxpayers deserve a break.
However, lawmakers aren’t excited about giving up anything. After all, they’re worth every dime they’re paid. Right?
They may think so, but do they really want to find out what the voters think of them?
That’s bound to happen if council decides not to place all 17 charter amendments on the November ballot.
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.
And here’s a message for city council members: There already are city residents gearing up to launch a petition drive to place any of the amendments on the ballot that you withhold.
That isn’t the only bad news. The amendments that are submitted for a referendum will be much more unforgiving than the ones recommended by the charter review commission.
For instance, if residents are given the chance to decide what members of council should be paid, they will conclude that the lawmakers are no more important than members of the Youngstown Board of Education. Indeed, they may well be less important than those who are elected to take care of the minds of the young.
Thus, the residents may decide that council members should be paid $125 a meeting and should not receive benefits..
Members of city council must know that they will be opening a can of worms if they refuse to let the voters have a say on all 17 amendments. The electorate isn’t stupid. Council’s transparent effort will backfire.