The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

City officials research charter governmental

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Van Wert city officials learned the major differences between statutory government and charter form of government during an informational session held Monday evening in Council Chambers.

Garry Hunter, legal counsel for the Ohio Municipal League, talks about the pros and cons of charter cities, versus cities operating as statutory communities. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Garry E. Hunter, legal counsel for the Ohio Municipal League, led City Council and administration members through a presentation and discussion on charter cities.

Hunter said the biggest benefit to having a charter form of government is its flexibility, versus Van Wert’s current statutory form of government. Hunter explained that Ohio cities with a statutory form of government are governed by the Ohio Revised Code, while charter cities are governed by a city charter they create.

Having their own charter allows a city’s residents to have more say over how their municipality is governed, Hunter said, noting that charter cities can make city elected positions non-partisan, meaning that candidates for city office would not have to undergo primary elections, and would not have to declare a party affiliation. Charter cities can also make City Council terms run for four years, versus the two years mandated by the Ohio Revised Code.

Hunter said there are various forms of charter government, including those that have a professional city manager who is in charge of the overall operation of the city, versus a “strong council” form of government, where the city council is in charge of city operations, and a “strong mayor” government, which would be similar to what Van Wert, as a statutory city, already has.

Under a city charter, Van Wert could also increase requirements for currently elected offices, such as mayor, auditor, treasurer, and law director. That would insure those elected to such positions were more qualified to serve, rather than having someone not qualified who is elected and then having to hire an assistant with professional qualifications at additional cost to do the actual work of the office.

In addition, a city charter could declare that those positions would be appointed positions, rather than elected positions, meaning that the city could hire or contract with professionals to fill those positions.

While charter cities still follow Civil Service guidelines for police and fire positions, Hunter said they have more leeway in how they are operated, which he noted can be scary for some municipalities, especially those who have problems with change.

To establish a charter government, Hunter said cities first must put the question of whether a charter commission should be created on the ballot. That can be done by a two-thirds vote of City Council or a petition with signatures representing at least 10 percent of electors. A slate of at least 15 candidates would have to be included. If voters approved creating a charter commission, the top 15 vote getters would comprise the commission, which would then be tasked with drawing up a charter.

Hunter recommended that such a commission be a cross section of the community as a whole, with the various sectors of the community represented on the panel.

Following the creation of a charter, which must be completed within a year, the charter would be placed on a general election ballot and city residents would then vote on whether it should be approved.

Some possible downsides of a charter form of government would be the possibility that “officials could run amuck”, as one person put it, because of the increased autonomy a charter would give city officials. A good charter would place limits, however, on what city officials can and cannot do.

Hunter also noted that there is some expense related to creating a city charter, which would have to be mailed out to all city residents prior to it being voted upon.

In the meantime, while some former city officials, such as former Council president Gary Corcoran, have been in favor of making Van Wert a charter city because of the power it gives to local government, no real work has been done in that area in the past.

Council members and administration officials plan to continue discussions on the issue in the future.

POSTED: 10/30/18 at 7:50 am. FILED UNDER: News