Youngstowners have a right to vote on number of wards

Members of Youngstown City Council are well advised not to substitute their judgment for that of the voters when it comes to the size of the legislative body — as they did with the 13 proposed city charter amendments that were designed to change the way the city is governed.

Should the lawmakers who want to preserve the status quo (it’s all about self-enrichment) come up with reasons not to let residents vote on whether the number of wards should be reduced from seven to five, they will be inviting a recall election. Here’s why: The people of Youngstown are tired of lawmakers’ shenanigans.

Council has before it petitions signed by about 1,700 voters to get a charter amendment on the November general election ballot to create five wards in the city. There’s a Sept. 5 deadline by which a resolution passed by council must be submitted to the Mahoning County Board of Elections authorizing the ballot issue. But before that occurs, the petitions must be on public display in council for 10 days.

Given that the petitions contain more than the legally required number of signatures, you would think that council would not hesitate to act expeditiously on the issue. You would be wrong.

Last week, even with two members of council, Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th, serving on the citizens committee pushing for the charter amendment, there weren’t enough votes for passage of the resolution. Ray, Drennen and Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, voted to act on the measure; council members Annie Gillam, D-1st, Nate Pinkard, D-3rd, and Janet Tarpley, D-6th, voted against. Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd, was absent.

Gillam insists there’s enough time to meet the September deadline, but there weren’t any council meetings scheduled this week.

A session has been set for next week, and Gillam says the issue will make it through the legislative body. Seeing is believing.

Youngstown residents will not be in a forgiving mood if city lawmakers sabotage their right to have a say in how the city should be governed.

In 2012, a majority of council refused to adopt all the recommendations of a special charter review committee made up of members selected by then Mayor Charles Sammarone and lawmakers.

There were 17 changes proposed, but only four comparatively insignificant ones were placed on the November ballot.

Part-time status

The 13 that were rejected by the so-called representatives of the people included one that would formally designate members of council 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 Youngstown residents.

Charter review committee members concluded that council members should be paid $20,721 a year, based on the full-time salary in the city of $25,902. Currently, a council member earns $27,817 and receives full benefits.

The council president makes $28,117 and gets benefits. That salary would be reduced to $21,966.

There has been talk of citizens bypassing council and placing the charter amendments directly on the ballot.

However, it’s a travesty that legislators should be allowed to substitute their judgment for that of the residents of the city.

Although there are members of council who cannot run for re-election next year because of term limits, lawmakers who refuse to vote to forward the charter amendment to the board of elections should feel the full impact of voter anger. A recall election would certainly get their attention.

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