Ballot measures seek to amend city charter

By Joshua Keeran -

When Urbana residents head to the polls on Nov. 8 to cast their ballots, city officials will be asking voters to consider passage of six amendments to the city charter. The proposed modifications focus on the areas of legislative procedure, streamlining legislation, residency requirements for city employees, publication requirements for legislative measures, and the appointment of alternates to city boards and commissions.

The first proposed charter amendment Urbana voters will see on the ballot seeks to amend section 2.09 of the charter – legislative procedure – by adding the following language: “Council may enact ordinances that supersede state statutory provisions with respect to acquisition and disposition of property upon a majority affirmative vote.”

City Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said instead of following acquisition and disposition requirements as outlined in the Ohio Revised Code, the amendment would allow the city, with council’s approval, to dispose of real estate no longer of use to the city and of no interest to prospective buyers.

For instance, Brugger said, the city owns various small parcels of land acquired over the years that isn’t of use to the taxpayers. The proposed amendment, he said, would allow the city to get out of the business of paying taxes and paying for the upkeep of these parcels.

“I know we have some lots in this city that are less than build-able, but they are adjacent to someone else’s property who could use it,” he said. “This would allow council to say if they (adjacent property owner) want it, let them take it.”

City-owned properties of value that have the potential to be developed or turned back into productive use, like the former armory on North Main Street, would not be disposed via the language in the proposed amendment, Brugger added.

The amendment also would give council the ability to increase the threshold for competitive bidding on construction and repair projects, as well as on goods/services involving local funding only.

City officials have stated by increasing the dollar threshold for competitive bidding, the city could see significant cost and time savings by not bidding out local projects and services as regularly as it currently does.

Projects or purchases involving state or federal funding wouldn’t apply to the proposed amendment, Brugger said.

Reading requirements

In an attempt to streamline legislation, city officials are seeking to amend section 2.10 of the charter as it relates to the number of readings council must hear before putting a legislative matter to vote.

Currently, the section reads all resolutions, except those of strictly ceremonial nature, and all ordinances will be read at three separate council meetings. However, council has the option to suspend the three-readings rule with approval from two-thirds of its members.

The proposed amendment would allow resolutions that don’t involve expenditure of funds to be passed on first reading. For all resolutions and ordinances involving money being spent, council would be required to hear two readings before voting.

The three-reading rule, under the proposed ballot measure, would still be in effect for ordinances seeking to amend the city’s codified ordinances and those ordinances that require actions deemed non-emergencies.

Brugger said the changes would allow legislative matters like funding applications to move through council at a quicker pace without requiring suspension of the three-readings rule.

“We are just putting in the flexibility to allow us to meet deadlines and time lines,” he said.

In a related matter, city residents will decide on whether to allow section 2.15 of the charter – effective date of ordinances and resolutions – to be changed to limit the amount of time a legislative measure must sit following the mayor’s approval before it takes effect.

Unless passed on emergency basis, the current charter language states all measures passed by council and signed by the mayor must wait 30 days before taking effect. The proposed amendment would cut the wait time to 14 days, while adding language allowing for all emergency legislation and legislation adopted on first reading to take effect immediately following the mayor’s approval.

“It just allows us to not sit on something for 30 days,” Brugger said.

Publication requirements

Two of the six proposed amendments to the city charter deal with how the city makes public newly approved legislative matters.

Section 2.17 of the charter currently requires all ordinances and resolutions, except those of a ceremonial nature or those that transfer funds previously appropriated, to be published by title in a newspaper of general circulation within the city.

Instead of regularly posting separate legal advertisements in the newspaper for every approved piece of legislation, the proposed amendment would only require the clerk of council to submit to the newspaper a list of legislation adopted by council once every 90 days, while also posting the list on the city’s web site and in the municipal building.

This particular charter amendment also seeks to change section 2.19 in terms of codification.

Rather than publishing codification and recodification of ordinances and resolutions in the newspaper, the city would instead publish them digitally, the proposed amendment states.

Brugger said amending sections 2.17 and 2.19 would not only provide the city with additional ways for getting legislative-related news out to the public, but it would save taxpayer dollars by cutting some of the costs associated with printing legal advertisements. He noted the exact dollar amount potentially saved is tough to estimate due to the different variables involved.

“There would be some savings, but that’s just a piece,” Brugger said. “Most importantly, it’s about getting the word out in a timely and effective manner to meet the growing needs of electronic methods.

“We are trying to use electronic sources more efficiently because that is where people are now,” he added.

Residency requirement

In 2008, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that city governments could no longer require its employees to live within city limits.

In 2002, the city charter was amended to read all directors – law, finance and administration – must live in Urbana. By state law, the city is no longer able to enforce this, so voters are being asked to eliminate this residency requirement from sections 4.01, 4.02 and 4.03 of the city charter.

“We’ve already taken all that (residency requirement) language out of the labor contracts because it’s not enforceable,” Brugger said.

Appointment of board/commission alternates

The sixth and final proposed city charter amendment appearing on the ballot seeks to add a new subsection to section 4.06, which refers to city boards and commissions.

The proposed language calls for the mayor to appoint at least one alternate member to any board or commission with less than five regular voting members to serve in the event of any temporary absences or to cover any conflicts of interest that may arise. For boards or commissions with five or more voting members, the mayor would appoint two alternates.

Brugger said the proposed amendment would “give more voices to the issues and reduce the risk of not having enough members present for a quorum.”

By Joshua Keeran

Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.

Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.

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