Local activist Maggy Lorenzi is coordinating a citizens initiative drive to get a charter amendment on the November ballot making the job of police chief an elected position rather than appointed by the mayor.
If approved, Youngstown would be the only community in the state with an elected police chief.
Police Chief Rod Foley and Mayor Charles Sammarone oppose the idea.
Lorenzi needs 538 valid signatures on petitions — a number equal to 3 percent of city residents who voted in the last presidential election — turned in to the Mahoning County Board of Elections by Aug. 8.
Though she hasn’t asked petition circulators, about 28 of them, for a number of how many signatures they’ve collected, Lorenzi said she’s confident enough will be collected.
The proposal would make police chief an elected position with that election occurring in the same year as the mayoral race. A person could serve only two four-year terms, and the election would be nonpartisan, which allows police officers to run for the seat and not violate federal law that doesn’t permit certain civil servants to engage in partisan politics, Lorenzi said.
Eligible candidates would need to have at least five years of supervisory experience or a bachelor’s degree. Also, candidates must have lived in the city for the previous five years to be eligible to run.
Foley, who moved to Boardman in November 2009, said the proposal “isn’t good for the city or the police department. You take authority away from the mayor and the administration.”
The proposal makes the police chief accountable to city residents, Lorenzi said.
“People like the idea of taking government into their hands,” she said.
Lorenzi said she has issues with Foley as chief but declined to discuss them. She added the initiative is about making the police chief more accountable to residents and not a personal grudge.
“A lot of people are upset [with Foley] about crime,” she said.
“It’s a personal attack rather than any other reason,” Foley said. “If they’re not happy with me, air concerns to the mayor and don’t hide behind this initiative. If [Lorenzi] does not believe I’m doing a good job, she should be more vocal with the mayor.”
Sammarone said: “When there’s issues with the police, you get a better response if a person is appointed. If a person is elected, he’s not obligated to respond to anyone. The position is too important to be elected. We’ve had council members who weren’t great on accountability and there was no control because they’re elected.”
Lorenzi said she didn’t bring this up to the charter-review committee because any proposal its members make must be approved by city council.
There are no elected police chiefs in any community in Ohio, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the state attorney general.
State law permits charter cities, such as Youngstown, to choose how it selects its police chief, he said.