Youngstown voters will decide if council term limits are fair

Youngstown voters will see three charter amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

One of them is quite familiar – the anti-fracking proposal that’s been voted down seven previous times dating to 2013.

The other two are new – one would eliminate term limits for city council members and the other would do the same for council president.

They now can serve a maximum of two consecutive elected four-year terms and then must sit out an intervening term before seeking election.

Council members say the latter two provide a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of city government.

That’s because voters approved a charter amendment in 2012 to eliminate term limits for the mayor.

However, the timing and method of the proposals could raise eyebrows.

Council waited until two days ago to approve the charter-amendment proposals and did so without having any public hearings or discussions on them.

Council President DeMaine Kitchen said: “It doesn’t look good to me to do it now. This is something that should have been brought up years ago. Now it looks self-serving because there are people term limited. I don’t think it is [self-serving], but I understand why people would think it.”

Also, the 2012 charter amendment to eliminate term limits for the mayor was recommended by a charter-review commission made up of citizens and then approved by city council to be placed on the ballot.

I asked T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd, one of the three councilmen who are term limited next year, about it. He acknowledged that it “is something that should have been done a while ago.”

When I asked why it wasn’t, he said, “It was a missed opportunity. But it doesn’t matter what we decide. It’s up to voters.”

Rodgers said he wasn’t sure if he’d run for re-election if term limits are eliminated.

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, who is also term limited next year, said he’d run for re-election if the charter amendment is approved.

“It’s important to maintain institutional knowledge and we lose that with term limits,” Ray said.

Nate Pinkard, D-3rd, the other councilman who currently can’t run for re-election next year, supports the proposal. But he said he’s not interested in seeking a third term if the charter amendment passes.

A valid point is raised about consistency about term limits among elected officials in the city.

But the process should have been inclusive.

The city charter permits council to put charter amendments on the ballot without a charter-review commission.

There’s a reasonable argument that council should have convened one to tackle this and other issues.

Another option is a citizens initiative. After all, Ray told me he backed the proposals because residents came to him asking for them. If there was that much support then gathering signatures shouldn’t have been a problem.

A citizens organization collected the needed signatures in 2014 to put a measure on the ballot to reduce the number of wards based on population. By the way, Ray was a member of that group.

Under that proposal, if the city had at least 80,000 residents, there would be no reduction in the number of council members. Below 80,000 and the number of council members would have dropped to five. There are about 65,000 people in the city.

That issue was rejected by voters.

And while on the topic of failed measures, the anti-fracking “Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights” is back for an eighth time.

It’s no surprise.

Backers of the charter amendment have said they won’t give up until the proposal passes no matter how long it takes.

Whether the issue is enforceable is another topic of debate.

Fracking is regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources so a local charter amendment would likely not usurp that power. But it would make for an interesting legal case.

The other part of the proposal of note is, if approved, it would forbid city government to use water and wastewater funds for economic-development projects.

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