The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021

Council pres. writes on Charter issue

To the Editor:

On Tuesday, November 2, registered voters in the city of Van Wert will once again have the opportunity to consider whether to establish a Charter Commission (NOTE: early voting begins October 6). The ballots can currently be found on the Van Wert County Board of Elections website under Election Info. Last year, the Charter Commission vote failed by 160 votes (2,249-2,089). 

The failure of the Charter Commission vote, I believe, was mostly due to confusion regarding the issue. Many citizens believed the vote last November was to establish Van Wert as a charter government, when in fact the first vote is simply to establish an “exploratory committee” known as the Charter Commission. Please stay with me here…

Anytime someone is attempting to determine whether or not he/she should run for an elected office, they establish an exploratory committee. The exploratory committee is charged with “testing the waters” to determine the feasibility of the candidate’s chances in the upcoming election. If the feasibility is positive, the candidate runs; if not, he or she chooses not to run. This in effect is the purpose of the Charter Commission that is being put before Van Wert voters this year. A YES vote to establish the Charter Commission this November IN NO WAY changes the governing structure of Van Wert – it is simply an exploratory committee to see if the members (of which you will be able to select) can determine a better, more efficient way to govern the city of Van Wert. If the vote this November is positive for establishing the exploratory committee, the 15 elected members of the Charter Commission are tasked with developing a formal charter for the governance of Van Wert. Then, prior to the November 2022 election, each registered voter in the city will be physically mailed the proposed Charter to review in whole. At this point, we don’t know what that charter will actually look like, but in truth there are numerous benefits to Van Wert becoming a charter city without actually changing anything in the way city government is run. 

I have been a member of Van Wert’s City Council in varying capacities for 10 of the last 12 years. Personally, I believe there are many benefits in Van Wert becoming a charter city (rather than a statutory city, but that is not the purpose of this letter. I would implore every eligible voter to educate yourself on the benefits and drawbacks of both the charter and statutory forms of government (a key research topic is the concept of municipal home rule). 

You can also watch an educational video on charter governments on the city’s website, vanwert.org, under city council videos. And there is an informational meeting for the public on Wednesday, September 29, in the First Federal Lecture Hall of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. 

Over the past year, I have seen a few very vocal individuals diminishing this constitutionally protected process. Most of them, I would argue, are either uninformed or perpetually negative, and most have not physically addressed their concerns or asked clarifying questions in the public forum that is a City Council meeting. But the one thing everyone has in common right now is none of us know what the members of the Charter Commission will create; any speculation to date is simply that: uninformed speculation. 

I would respectfully ask the citizens of Van Wert to at least give the members of the Charter Commission the opportunity to see if your local government can be run more efficiently. Not doing so, especially when this is simply an exploratory committee, is shortsighted and akin to one of the worst arguments against change: ”because we’ve always done it this way.”

Sincerely,

Jon C. Tomlinson, Ph.D.,
President of Van Wert City Council

POSTED: 09/27/21 at 10:45 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor