City Council may ask voters to reverse 2009 decision to eliminate one Council seat in 2014

by Jeff Saunders | Reporter Published:

Macedonia -- Voters may be asked to reconsider their November 2009 decision to reduce the number of City Council seats from six to five.

Council gave first reading Jan. 10 to an ordinance to place a charter amendment on the May 7 primary ballot. The amendment would reverse the 2009 change --which is effective Jan. 1, 2014 -- by restoring Council's sixth at-large seat, along with the mayor's power to break Council's tie votes. Council must decide the issue before Feb. 6, which is the filing deadline for the May election.

The 2009 amendment was one of three Council put on the ballot after they were recommended by a charter review commission earlier in the year. All three measures were approved by voters.

The ordinance was proposed by Councilor Ken Martin, who Council elected as its president for 2013 at its Jan. 10 meeting. Martin and councilors Shane Barker, Dave Engle and Mike Miller are in the last year of their current terms, leaving three positions in play next November if the reduction stands. Barker, however, said he will not run for a third term.

At a work session before Council's regular meeting, Martin said he had some concerns about next year's change and wants to revisit the issue.

"I don't want to have a situation where you have five Council members and three can get together and effectively govern the city," said Martin. "Historically, this city has worked well with six Council people."

Martin said he also believes there are times when the mayor has greater "vision" than Council, so it would be a good idea for the mayor to continue to be able to break tie votes. He also said that reducing the number of Council seats would cut the opportunities for city residents to serve on Council.

But Barker said he opposes the proposed amendment, saying it would be a "slap in the face" to the charter review commission and he believes there should be a clearer dividing line between the mayor as executive and Council as legislators. He also said that if reducing residents' opportunities is an issue, then increasing Council's size is an alternative.

"If anything, I'd like to see it move to seven," said Barker. "We still have the odd number and one more opportunity for people to serve."

Mayor Don Kuchta said thinks that there are times when it may be advantageous for the mayor to have the ability to break ties. He noted, for example, that several years ago, Council voted 3 to 3 to proceed with the Route 82 railroad bridge and road widening project and that it was his tie-breaking vote that allowed the project to go forward. He also pointed out that Council has checks and balance powers of its own, such as the authority to approve administrative appointments and hires.

"It's not like we're slapping [the commission] in the face," he said. "Mr. Martin has brought this up for debate and there are pros and cons."

Hampton Drive resident Sylvia Hanneken, who challenged Kuchta's bid for a third term in 2011, told Council at its regular meeting that she opposes the proposed amendment. Hanneken said she believes that if the matter is re-addressed, it would be better handled by next year's charter review commission. Under the city's charter, a commission must be convened every five years.

Hanneken also pointed out that the voters approved the 2009 amendment by a wide margin. According to the Board of Elections, the final and official count was 2,061 to 1,131.

"I think we should proceed with the will of the people," said Hanneken. "Let's try what the people have voted on."

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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