The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023

City officials attend charter info meeting

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Van Wert City Council met Thursday evening as a “committee of the whole” to further discuss the idea of seeking a charter form of government for the city.

Ohio Municipal League Legal Counsel Garry Hunter made a presentation on charter government during a special meeting of Van Wert City Council on Thursday. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Garry Hunter, legal counsel for the Ohio Municipal League, attended the meeting to provide information on the process to the six Council members who attended (Warren Straley was absent), as well as Mayor Jerry Mazur and City Auditor Martha Balyeat.

Hunter said the main benefit of being a charter (home rule) city is the flexibility it provides communities.

“The basic argument for home rule, in my mind, is you’re able to fashion your city the way you want your city to look,” Hunter told those attending the meeting, noting, for example, that a city could make all elections non-partisan, rather than candidates having to represent a certain political party.

Hunter also talked about the various forms of charter government, including a strong council form, similar to what Van Wert currently has, where City Council must approve all mayoral appointments and authorize the mayor to sign contracts; a commission-style government, similar to what Van Wert County has, with the appointment of 3-5 commissioners who would administer the city; or a strong mayor form of government, where a mayor would have the ability to make appointments without approval from Council and would also have more autonomy to take other action.

One big benefit is the ability to appoint various officials who are now elected, including the positions of city auditor and city law director. Doing so would avoid problems such as those currently seen in the Van Wert County Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices.

Having appointed officials in those positions would allow the city to ensure it hired qualified people, while also being able to fire or discipline them if they failed to do their jobs.

In addition to having a weak or strong mayor, the city could hire a city manager to administer the city, and make the mayor’s position a part-time job, with a significantly reduced salary. The safety-service director’s position could also be transitioned to a deputy city manager’s job. 

Balyeat said she had no problem in making the auditor’s position an appointed job, noting that she has stated in the past that she plans to retire after her next four-year term — or sooner, if a charter government was established.

The first step to establishing a charter form of government is to place an issue on the ballot establishing a charter commission and also elect 15 commission members. Council hasn’t decided at this point whether to take that step.

Hunter noted that the Ohio Municipal League can provide assistance to the city, and to a charter commission, in setting up a charter government, adding that the OML has a number of people with experience in charter government.

He did say, though, that taxpayer funds cannot be spent on a marketing campaign to promote approval by voters of a charter issue, adding that money can be spent on mailings and handouts that provide information about issue, including a copy of the charter, when prepared, that must be sent to every registered voter prior to a vote to approve it.

Hunter also noted that, while a charter form of government provides a municipality with more flexibility, it doesn’t allow Council members to extend their election terms without voter approval, nor does it allow Council to vote income tax increases without voter approval, or change the number of Council members, for example.

The legal counsel said that, if the process is done correctly and is not out of line with taxpayers’ wishes, most charter issues are approved by voters.

POSTED: 08/30/19 at 8:19 am. FILED UNDER: News