Committee begins review of city charter, council rules

By Sheryl Roadcap - [email protected]

SIDNEY — A review of the Sidney City Charter and City Council rules began Wednesday morning during the first Sidney City Council Rules and City Charter Ad Hoc Committee meeting.

Mayor Mardie Milligan, Vice Mayor Steve Wagner, Council member Mike Barhorst and City Clerk Kari Egbert gathered in City Council Chambers to review and discuss potential changes to the charter and council rules. Although a review of the city of Sidney Charter is required annually, it was noted the last review was conducted in 2020. Also, due to several new or fairly new members on City Council, a new Sidney mayor, vice mayor and city manager, as well as law director, the ad hoc committee was formed for the review.

A council discussion summary from the Jan. 4, 2016, council workshop session, was used as a guide for Wednesday’s meeting. The discussion review used, that retired Law Director Jeff Amick had put together, noted the information submitted was not necessary to imply that charter revisions needed to be made, but rather, to inform council members of potential charter amendments for the ad hoc committee, and they are as follows:

1. Charter amendment procedure. The process by which the city’s charter may be amended generally occurs in the following manner:

• Proposal of an amendment by council, staff or citizen;

• Council’s formal consideration of the proposed amendment(s);

• Council’s appointment of a Charter Review Commission, to consider the proposed amendment(s); findings and recommendations to council;

• Council enactment of legislation to submit the proposed amendment(s) to the electorate;

• Secretary of state review of proposed ballot language;

• Vote by the electorate.

2. Estimated costs associated with charter amendment process.

• Special election: $16,000-$17,000;

• Primary or general election: $2,000-$3,000.

3. Potential amendments:

A. Section 1-3, relating to local home rule authority. Such amendment would provide a means by which the sale of real and personal property which is not needed for any present or anticipated municipal purpose may be sold in a quicker and less expensive manner than is presently provided for in Chapter 721 of the Ohio Revised Code.

Current Charter language does not clearly express an intent that such sales may be accomplished in a means that differs from state law. Recent circumstances involving the sale of property in the vicinity of the airport and adjacent to Riverbend Park illustrate the potential wisdom of such an amendment.

Wednesday morning, Milligan said when she previously met with City Manger Andrew Bowsher, he pointed out the local home rule authority should be reviewed, and Law Director David Busick agreed.

B. Section 2-17, relating to personal interest. Such amendment would implement a more detailed “conflict of interest” policy and prohibition, specifically requiring any elected official to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and to prohibit the official’s participation in all discussions and any votes regarding the topic about which a conflict of interest may potentially exist. Such amendment may also provide that a failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest could result in removal and make voidable related council action. Present language merely states that no member of council shall “sell any goods to nor render any remunerated services for the city.” Related state statutes are much more prohibitive in nature and affect.

Committee members felt this potential amendment should be scratched, because although this issue on members’ potential conflict of interest is discussed during new member orientation, it should be consolidated in with council rules. Also, they are bound by law to follow certain ethics and avoid conflict of interest set forth by the Ohio Ethics Commission, Milligan and Wagner noted.

C. Section 2-8, relating to vacancies on council. Current language provides a means by which vacancies on council may be filled due to death, resignation or disqualification, but does not take into consideration circumstances involving a vacancy created due to the lack of a qualified candidate for election. Current language could be amended to reflect a means for Council to fill a vacancy created by way of death, resignations, disqualification or for any other reason by which a vacancy in the position may occur.

The committee briefly considered a scenario in which four seats remained empty to due lack of interest of the public to run, and what would happen in that situation for seats to be filled. Members expressed a desire to make the next steps clear.

D. Section 2-10, relating to the election of the mayor. Current charter language mandates the election of a vice-mayor who is to serve in the absence or disability of the mayor or vacancy in this office. No provision exists, however, to deal with the potential circumstance whereby both the mayor and vice mayor may be unavailable. While the occurrence of such a circumstance may only rarely occur, it may be wise to consider the means to designate someone to discharge the mayor’s duties in the unlikely absence of both the mayor and vice mayor.

Barhorst expressed a desire to clearly identify who would fulfill these duties so it would be specific for city staff in the absence of both the mayor and vice mayor

E. Section 2-11, relating to the duties of the mayor. Current charter language does not specifically enumerate the duties of the mayor, other than to state that the may or shall “be the head of the city and shall perform the customary duties of a mayor under the council-manager form of government.” It has been suggested consideration be given to more specifically enumerate those duties.

F. Section 3-6, relating to discussion of council matters. Such an amendment could more accurately reflect the manner by which proposed legislation may be amended prior to passage. Current charter language merely reflects that changes in proposed ordinances may be agreed upon by council without prejudice to the valid introduction of the ordinance. The charter could be amended to reflect that any legislation (not just an ordinance) may be amended any time prior to its adoption, without need to wait for re-introduction at a subsequent meeting of council.

G. Sections 4-2 and 5-3, relating to residency requirements for the law director and city manager. The Ohio Supreme Court limited the authority that municipalities have to enforce local residency requirements for non-elected personnel. Current state law limits such authority to adjoining county residence status. The above charter sections require the law director and city manager to be residents of the city of Sidney. If amended, these charter provisions would provide that these persons holding these positions could live in adjoining counties.

H. Section 6-4, relating to the requirement set forth in these sections for the conduct of competitive examinations for the positions of fire chief and police chief and local civil service certification. Many communities have eliminated the use and consideration of competitive examinations in connection with the appointment of these positions and for the use of the local civil service commission in connection with the filling of such positions.

I. Section 3-3, relating to the majority vote required for council action. A suggestion was made to amend this section, which presently reads to as follows:

3-3: Majority required: The affirmative vote of four members of the council shall be necessary for the passage of any ordinance, but a majority of a quorum may transact other business should be amended to read: 3-3: Majority required: The affirmative voter of four members of the council shall be necessary for the passage of any ordinance, but a majority vote of the quorum present and voting may transact other business.”

The proposed revision would eliminate the need to include an abstaining Council member when determining what constitutes a majority when taking action on a matter not involving the adoption of an ordinance.

In other business, the committee then moved on to a review of City Council rules, which had not been amended since 2016.

Under the executive session section, Milligan questioned the wording directing members not to disclose the content of the private discussion. She questioned whether the wording is better to say “should not” rather than “may not” disclose such information, and said she will follow up with Busick about it.

Going back to the ethics topic, which is addressed in the abstention section in council rules, Milligan noted perhaps conflict of interest or ethics should be made into its own heading. Milligan and Barhorst agreed that an ethics refresher for new or “freshmen” council members should be required within their first year, and should be strongly recommended for other members to take a refresher at some point during their four-year-term. They pointed out the ability to utilize electronic means would make it an easier task to complete.

Milligan said she would reach out to Busick for clarification on language on Sidney City Charter amendment sections 3A on the home rule and 3C on council vacancies and the wording under the executive sessions section of council rules before the next meeting.

The next Council Rules and City Charter Ad Hoc Committee meeting is set for Friday, March 4, at 11 a.m.

By Sheryl Roadcap

[email protected]