By Kalea Hall
It appears the recently passed Canfield city charter amendment changing how many years a mayor can be in office violates Ohio election procedures and state law.
City Attorney Mark Fortunato said, however, the violation can be fixed.
“It is kind of complicated,” Fortunato said. “Charter amendments are very difficult to detest, so when they pass, you have to make some corrections.”
In other words, it’s difficult to prohibit a charter amendment from being placed on the ballot if all of the petitions are received and it is certified.
“You don’t have a lot of power to reject them if they are properly done,” Fortunato said.
Fortunato said he was not aware of the issue with the amendment violating the Ohio Revised Code.
The charter amendment allows the mayor to maintain his position for three years. The ORC allows a municipality to have an election only during an odd-numbered year, and the amendment would call for the next mayoral election in 2016.
The Canfield City Charter Review Commission meets every five years and is meeting to discuss any issues with the city charter, including the amendment that passed in the 2012 election.
“One way of possibly resolving [the issue] is to have another charter amendment” in the May election, said Joe Warino, Canfield city manager.
Frank Micchia, a Canfield resident, proposed the amendment and another amendment to add two-year term limits for council members.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office reviews the language of city charter amendments, but the office does not review them to see if they violate the law.
“We simply look at them to see that they are fitting the form of the ballot,” said Matt McClellan, press secretary for the secretary of state. “When a local municipality wants to place an issue on the ballot, we are not reviewing it to see if it fits within state laws.”
This situation is not unusual, McClellan said, and Fortunato said it is only temporary.
“This kind of result is not unusual when term limits are imposed in the middle of election cycles,” Fortunato said.
If the city charter review commission is unable to fix the issue with the amendment, then the city will get a declaratory judgment in court.
“It’s kind of like the people have spoken with the amendment, and the city has to take action and make that work,” Fortunato said.
Micchia’s two other city amendments passed in this November’s election, placing term limits on members of the five boards, commissions and committees the city has.
The other allows residents to speak up whenever they want to discuss an issue on the floor during a board, commission or committee meeting.
Another amendment allowing residents to present their opinions throughout a council meeting was not allowed on the ballot because it violated the city’s charter.