Charter Changes: A Quick Look
Updated: Apr 9
"I'm Voting No."
The City of Dayton has proposed six charter amendments to be voted on during the May 4th primary election. According to the National League of City, “a municipal charter is the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government.” Therefore, these ballot initiatives seek to change fundamental aspects of our local governance; a move that should never be taken lightly. However, the current commission has deemed the matter urgent enough to put before voters during an election that reeled in less than 10% of registered votes in May 2019. Logically, it is understandable how decisions made by a few don’t represent the masses.
Even if there were larger voter turnout, I’d still argue that theproposal is inappropriate given the amount of time voters have to learn and dissect the charter amendments and the nature ofprimary elections. With less than four months available to get educated about the motivations and consequences of each initiative, voters are at a disadvantage. Community organizations have to scramble to fill gaps in information that government manipulatively withhold. Further, primary elections are about advancing candidates, not policy. To throw some long-term changes into a short-term election is irresponsible, especially since the amendments aren’t pressing issues.
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by revising Section 36 to specifically detail the Mayor’s responsibilities? By “revise,” they mean broadening the scope of the Mayor’s responsibilities to include “convene community groups; advocate for the City on state and federal levels; maintain relationships with other elected officials; cultivate grant and foundation opportunities; and lead the Commission in the establishment of policy.” According to the Dayton City Charter we have a “Commission-Manager” style of government. Without mention of the Mayor the position is weak. Why is anyone worried about giving the Mayor more power? Why the need to be specific about their role? How will this change what the Mayor does already? Sounds skeptical to me.
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by revising Section 38 to calculate Commission member salaries as a designated fraction of Montgomery County Commissioner salaries and to reflect benefits received?Basically, the mayor and commission want raises in relation to county commissioner salaries of 50% for commissioners and 75% for the Mayor. According to the Dayton Daily News, commissioner make about $48k and the Mayor, $56k, annually before benefits. The charter amendment would raise theirsalaries to approximately $50k and $75, respectively. That is, based on 2019 payroll data from the highest paid county commissioner, Carolyn Rice, at almost $101k. While the charter doesn’t specify their roles as part-time, it has been common understanding for several years. Do they really need a promotion where local governments everywhere are taking hits to theirbudget due to COVID? How can elected officials attempt to cut the budget of the Human Relations Council and increase their pay in the same breath? Why does the mayor deserve so much more? If they want a raise, they should at least create the charter amendment to become full-time employees.
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by revising Section 39 to allow Commission meetings to occur by electronic means during an emergency? COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we interact at work, school, and play. Technology has enabled us to work from home and on-the-go to be most efficient with our time and money. I attend Zoom meetings almost daily and recognize the benefits of connecting with folks wherever I am. During an emergency, I can understand how being able to meet quickly is advantageous, but what is considered an emergency and who makes that judgement? Urgent decisions can have broad impacts, how will citizens be notified early enough to participate? Group FaceTime and closed meetings should not be permissible, how can we hold the government accountable? Allowing these types of meetings may limit transparency and participation.
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by revising Section 97 to allow for police and firefighter recruitment appointments to be selected from a larger group of applicants? Do you know who the Dayton Chief Examiner is or what they do? Currently, this position is filled by Kenneth Thomas and is appointed to oversee the Civil Service Boardwhich manages the City’s hiring process. This charter amendment authorizes this person to, “establish and implement a selection process for the appointment of police recruits or firefighter recruits, which is within his or her discretion, will result in the selection of candidates based on merit, efficiency, character, industry and conduct.” How can we hold this person accountable to create strategies that effectively give diverse candidates jobs in police and fire? If they are appointed by the commission, who answers to the City Manager, where does the people’s input get inserted? What recommendations of the working groups for police reform will be implemented?
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by revising Section 105 to expand employee's right to engage in political activity? While the amendment language does expand the rights of City employee’s, it does not allow the right “to be used in a City of Dayton municipal election, or in support of or in opposition to any candidate for election to the office of mayor or member of commission of the City of Dayton, Dayton Municipal Judicial election, or Dayton Municipal Clerk of Courts elections.” Some may say that it is a conflict of interest to do so, but can you reduce these folks down to merely City employee? They have families to support, communities in which they live, and groups they represent. Shouldn’t they have the ability to speak up for or out against the government and elected leader like everyone else? Regardless of titles, we have the right to challenge thought, our bosses, and the systems in which they exist.
Shall the Charter of the City of Dayton, Ohio be amended by enacting Section 190 to declare the City's water system to be a public utility that shall not be leased or transferred to private ownership or control? This is a completely new addition to the charter. To even be mentioned means that someone has had the idea of privatizing our water supply and public utilities. Who has the power, money, and/or influence to suggest such a thing? If water is a public utility, why not electricity, internet, gas? I understand these fields are dominated by corporations, but we must get into the habit of questioning everything.
I’m voting ‘no’ to them all. There are too many questions and consequences to be considered. Also, I’m against primary elections by principle. They are used to take advantage of low voter turnout and they limit our options at the general election. As a community, I’d like to see us put forth our own ballot initiative like Reconstructing Dayton is doing. That topic, though, is for another story.