By Marty Trese, KnoxPages.com Editor
MOUNT VERNON - An informative public forum was held Tuesday night at City Hall about the benefits of home rule charter government. The event came about after an infomal discussion last fall between local political leaders, city officials, and Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson.
Panelists included moderator Dani Robbins of the Ohio State Universitiy School of Public Affairs, Greeson, Marysville City Manager Terry Emery, Marysville City Councilwoman Tracy Richards and municipal law attorney Jonathan Downes.
Over 100 years ago, the Ohio Constitution was amended to adopt Article XVIII, which is better known as the “Home Rule” Amendment. Article XVIII empowers Ohio’s cities and villages to govern themselves in local matters independent of state law. The adoption of “Home Rule” freed Ohio’s municipal corporations from control by the General Assembly and state officials in matters of local self-government, such as taxation, debts, urban renewal, and salaries.
Panelists from the home rule forum at City Hall. L to R Dani Robbins, The Ohio State University School of Public Affairs, Attorney Jonathan Downes, Marysville City Councilwoman Tracy Richards, Marysville City Manager Terry Emery and Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson. KP Photo
The “Home Rule” Amendment allows each of Ohio’s cities and villages to adopt and amend a charter for its government. The charter document is a legal instrument that prescribes the basic law of the municipality; it may be compared roughly to a constitution for the municipality. Approximately 263 of Ohio’s 990 cities and villages have chosen to adopt a charter because of the procedural advantages and flexibility that a charter offers.
No municipality is required to enact a charter, but municipalities without a charter must follow state law withrespect to exercising the “procedural powers” of local self-government. This means that the General Assembly controls the “structure and form” of local government for these cities, and the procedures by which the city or village operates in areas such as taxation, debt, legislative enactments, elections, and civil service are determined by the General Assembly.
Emery said, "The biggest benefit to the charter concept is your flexibility." The city manager form of government involves an elected city council and an appointed city manager - in theory - without regard to politics.
Richards says this form of government allows "..for the city manager to be hired, not at the whim of the electorate"
The Ohio General Assembly allows only three (3) statutory forms of government for non-chartered cities: a “City Manager” plan, a “Federal Plan” (a stronger mayor form of government), and a “Commission Plan.” These three plans are inherently inflexible and can only be amended by
The General Assembly; individual municipalities cannot customize these rigid plans to accommodate the size of the municipality or the particularly economic, political, or social needs of the community.
For chartered municipalities, however, the municipal charter prevails over some statutes passed by the General Assembly to specify the structure and procedures for local self-government. Chartered cities and villages are thus free to design their local government to have a more efficient and
flexible structure, administration, and operating procedures.
For the City of Mount Vernon, a charter would serve two major functions:
The Charter Specifies the Form and Structure of Government Charters typically provide one of four standard forms of government, tailored to the particular needs of that municipality: (1) strong mayor-council form, (2) weak mayor-council form, (3) city manager form, or (4) commission plan.
A charter for the City of Mount Vernon would provide for a customized and flexible form of government that would allocate functions between the Council and the Mayor, and it may also provide for a city manager or administrator.1 The City Council under a charter would retain the legislative authority of the City, and would continue to set the policies and direction of the City under the principle of Home Rule.
The charter itself would provide for the structure and procedures of the Council.
A charter would allow for an administrative structure that can consolidate functions and provide for accountability and efficiencies such as:
* Finance Department combining fiscal responsibilities
* Safety Director combined with City Manager’s functions
* Law Director appointed by City Manager or Council
* Service Functions consolidated (e.g., water, sewer, streets)
Like a constitution, a charter does not attempt to solve all of the detailed administrative and legislative policy matter for the municipality, but leaves a great deal of flexibility and policy-making power that is guided by statements of fundamental principles.
* The Charter Facilitates Local Self-Determination (Home Rule)
A charter itself does not necessarily confer additional substantive powers beyond those given to the City by the Ohio Constitution; however, a charter does allow the City a greater measure of freedom to distribute its powers among the various elected and appointed officials and bodies, and between the city officials and the citizens. In this sense, a charter is necessary for the City to have access to the full procedural freedom of local self-government.
A charter would enhance local autonomy, enabling the City of Mount Vernon’s government to be more responsive to local needs than the non-chartered statutory forms of government, since the citizens will provide for the distribution of municipal powers as they determine, rather than relying upon the Ohio General Assembly. A charter could help the City of Mount Vernon to strengthen its own democratic processes and facilitate a more efficient government.
The chief advantage of a municipal charter is that it is flexible. A charter may be amended from time to time as circumstances and the values of the community change. Modifications to the City’s government structure and procedures would no longer need approval by the General Assembly, who represents other entities whose concerns are not necessarily the same, nor are their opinions and values closely oriented, to Mount Vernon’s electorate.
Following the presentation, questions were taken from audience members.
More discussions are planned. Then the voters will decide if a commission of 15 people should be formed to draft a charter, or mini-constitution, for the city. Details on who would serve on the commission or their qualifications are to be announced.
To view video of the public forum provided by the city click here.