MOUNT VERNON — Voters in the city of Mount Vernon will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to organize a charter commission after Mount Vernon City Council voted to approve an ordinance to place the question on the November ballot. The measure passed by a vote of 5-2; a two-thirds majority was required. Nancy Vail and Janis Seavolt cast no votes on the legislation.
Electorates of the city will also have the opportunity to run for one of 15 seats on the commission. Any city resident, over 18 years old, and a registered voter, may petition to be a candidate with 50 certified signatures of city voters. According to the legislation, petitions will be due to the Knox County Board of Elections by 4 p.m. on Sept. 4.
Voters will vote for or against the creation of the charter commission and will vote for 15 members for the commission. The commission will only be convened with a majority of yes votes for the creation of the commission. If approved by voters in November, the elected commission would have a year to draft a charter or decide no charter is needed. If drafted, it would be presented to the voters for approval in November 2019.
“We work for [city residents] and we are giving this decision to them and say, “Hey do you want to structure your local government and establish the equality, balance of power different than it is now,’” Menapace said Monday prior to council’s vote. “… It has nothing to do with speed; it’s just a question.”
“We get to decide if they get to decide,” said Jeff Gottke. “Then they can decide and they can have input along the whole process once that commission gets formed, which would be similar to the finance study group,” said Jeff Gottke. “We’re talking about a study group — that’s what the commission is for. So, then we have the commission and [meetings] are open to the public. They are going to ask what’s broken — manager, council, hiring practice — the commission does all of that.”
Councilman Matt Starr said the charter commission was necessary because it allows the people to decide what will be in it, regular reviews can be inscribed as part of the charter and it provides the city recourse with an “overreaching state government.” He said the appropriate question wasn’t why the hurry, but “why has it taken so long.”
First Ward Councilman Sam Barone said council has one role in the charter issue and that is to give it to the people to decide.
“It’s not to express our opinion, but solely to provide an on ramp for discussion,” Barone said.
Opposing the legislation, Vail and Seavolt stated they felt the process was moving too fast and changes to the city’s Civil Service rules for promotions were adequate.
“We need more meetings to talk about what needs changed,” Seavolt said. “We should have employees and the mayor give input.”
Vail said she didn’t believe council did its “due diligence” and voted against the legislation because she “must agree with the consensus of public opinion.”
Several city residents urged council to vote no on the legislation.
“Many residents feel that our present form of local government has served Mount Vernon citizens very well before and after 1912 when home rule became available as an option to Ohio municipalities,” Carr said. “If you don’t help citizens understand in-depth the logic to move from a tried and true form of government to some unknown structure, you’re just asking for public confusion and a defeat of the referendum at the polls and the waste of time and money for all involved.”
“You are the elected leaders of Mount Vernon. So lead,” Bruce Malek said. “So take time to collectively determine and then share with the voters what is broken with our current form of government and how a charter might fix it. This is not an infringement on the voters or any future commission tasked with considering a charter. It is common sense. How can you expect the voters to fairly judge the need for a charter if you don’t tell them about current problems, if any?”