City manager explains proposed charter changes


By Andrew Bowsher - Guest columnist



Annually City Council reviews the City Charter to determine if amendments are warranted. Over the last few years a growing list of potential changes has been kept and earlier this year an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to review those items.

While all items on the list have varying levels of importance, three sections were identified as priorities, and they are being submitted to the electorate for a vote during the November general election.

Proposed Charter Amendment 1: Section 2-8. Vacancies has to do with how City Council fills vacancies. The current section only addresses vacancies if a Councilmembers dies, resigns or is disqualified; it does not address a vacancy caused by having no candidates who file for election. The new language will address unfilled seats for any reason and requires that the action take place within 45 days of the vacancy being created. The new language also states that if City Council has not filled the vacant seat within 45 days, then the mayor may appoint a qualified elector to fill the vacant seat.

The proposed changes also potentially modifies the number of votes required to fill the vacancy. Under the current language, at least four affirmative votes are needed to select someone to fill the vacancy. The new language requires a majority vote of those members present at a regularly scheduled meeting. This change is important should there be a major city-wide catastrophe from which less than four Councilmembers survive. By allowing a majority vote of those members present at a regularly scheduled meeting, the government could continue functioning without interruption.

Proposed Charter Amendment 2: Section 2-5 Restrictions has to do with which other public offices may be held by members of City Council. The Ohio Attorney General and/or the Ohio Ethics Commission have compiled a list of positions that are compatible with the position of City Councilmember in a Charter city (https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/About-AG/Service-Divisions/Opinions/Compatibility-of-Public-Offices-or-Positions). This list would be consulted when candidates decide to run for office or before being appointed to fill a vacancy if they work for another political subdivision or affiliated organization part of a township, county or state. Under the current Charter language, the list of other public offices that may be held is very restrictive and has limited the eligibility of potential City Councilmember candidates in the past.

Proposed Charter Amendment 3: Section 1-3. Home Rule Powers is definitely the longest and probably most confusing to read, but in a nutshell it will allow the city to work at the speed of business versus the typical speed of government when it comes to getting rid of surplus property owned by the city. The proposed 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 state that such sales may be accomplished in a means that differs from state law.

The amendments to Section 1-3 Home Rule Powers would extend the city’s Home Rule powers to permit the disposal of surplus real and personal property in a more efficient manner without the need for competitive bidding in circumstances where the cost of advertising the surplus property would be greater than the expected return, or in the case of personal property that the City Manager determines is essentially without value. In addition, the language would permit the private sale of surplus property without competitive bidding in cases involving urban renewal or economic development purposes.

I’ll share an example of how the proposed amendments to Section 1-3 would have been and will be of benefit to the city in the future, if adopted by local voters.

In 2008, the city determined a property it owned containing .0067 acres or 2,937.73 square feet more or less was no longer needed for municipal purposes. The undeveloped, narrow piece of land between Bon Air Drive and the Great Miami River was originally dedicated as a portion of Edgewater Park in the Bon Air subdivision. Only one other property, 322 Bon Air Drive, was directly adjacent to the vacant land and at the time was not compliant with the front-setback requirements in the Zoning Code. With the addition of the vacant land to 322 Bon Air Drive the property would be brought into compliance with the front-setback requirement; therefore, the owners of 322 Bon Air Drive were the only logical bidders for the surplus property.

At the time, the City Charter did not provide for a quick sale of surplus real property so the public bidding process had to be used. As a part of that process, state law requires that legal advertisements be placed in a newspaper of general circulation before sealed bids could be opened. In this case, the legal advertisement was placed once per week for five consecutive weeks. The cost of placing that legal ad depends upon the size of the notice, but today averages about $130 per day for a 2×2 or 19 line legal ad. A much larger ad, such as the one the city was required to publish about this proposed Charter amendment, was a total $865.32 for two days.

In this case, the eventual purchase price was well below the funds expended to sell the small, vacant tract of land. Had the proposed Charter Amendment been in place, the city could have saved a considerable amount of money and time to dispose of the surplus property.

As you head to the ballot box in the coming weeks, it is my hope that you will see the value in voting yes for each of the proposed City Charter amendments. Let’s together keep Sidney moving forward.

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By Andrew Bowsher

Guest columnist