Youngstown council must let voters decide charter changes
While Youngstown City Coun- cil members might feel the urge to fiddle with the proposed amendments to the Home Rule Charter developed by a special panel, we would suggest they leave well enough alone.
The charter-review committee — members were appointed by the mayor and council — has done a commendable job of addressing all the major issues that relate to the operation of city government. The 17 proposed amendments also reflect a basic truth about Youngstown: It is shrinking in size (population-wise and geographically) and, as a result, has a revenue stream that is stagnant at best.
With this reality in mind, the 11 members of the committee spent several months analyzing the current charter and discussing changes to make it a living document — as opposed to some archaic blueprint for a bygone era. They held several public meetings at which the opinions of all segments of the community were sought.
The 17 amendments are a bold attempt to change the way government operates. Residents of Youngstown should be given the opportunity to vote yes or no on each of them.
City council, which will receive the amendments from the charter-review committee in early June, should ask questions of the members so they have a firm understanding of each of the amendments and the justification for the changes.
That information will be crucial when lawmakers talk to their constituents about the items that will appear on the November general election ballot.
The mayor and council would be directly affected by several of the amendments, which is why the legislative branch should not pick and choose the ones it finds acceptable. The charter-review committee’s deliberations are designed to take politics out of the process. The mayor and lawmakers are politicians, first and foremost, and that raises questions about their objectivity. It is human nature to hold on to what you have, but a couple of the key amendments are designed to change the status quo.
For example, a major amendment hits lawmakers in the pocket book. It 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. The committee determined that the average salary is $25,902 a year. Therefore, members of council would be paid $20,721 a year, compared with the $27,817.24 they now earn — with full benefits. The president of council, who now makes $28,117.24, plus benefits, would be paid $21,966.
In addition, the amendment says that if a member of council is able to receive benefits through other sources, such as retirement, employment or a spouse, those benefits would take precedence over the city benefits.
The salaries of members of council have been a point of contention for many years, and the fact that the charter-review committee took the issue head on is a reflection of its commitment to making substantive changes to the city’s governing document.
As for the mayor, an amendment would abolish the two-term limit, and also create the elected position of vice mayor. The vice mayor would become mayor if the position is vacated. Currently, the president of council succeeds the mayor.
Another significant amendment has to do with the way elections are conducted in the city. Currently, the Democratic and Republican parties hold primaries and the nominees then face off in the general election. However, with the predominance of Democrats in the city, the Republican Party is virtually non-existent.
The charter-review committee is recommending non-partisan elections, such as those held in the city of Campbell and the city of Cleveland.
Mayor Charles Sammarone and city council should ensure that the voters have copies of the charter amendments and are given the opportunity to discuss them with committee members and city officials. And then they should let the vote of the people prevail.