Recently, I made the difficult decision not to seek re-election to the office of mayor of the city of Gahanna next year. I plan to complete my current term, which ends Jan. 2, 2016. After that date, after 24 years in public office in our city, I owe it to my family, who has sacrificed much to support me in this job, to return to private life. I made the decision on this timing even before the last election, as our nation's founding fathers believed no one should hold elected office forever, even if they continue to win re-election, as I have been blessed to have done.
Why am I declaring this now? Our city's charter (our Constitution) mandates a petition-filing deadline of early February 2015 for anyone interested in running for mayor for the next term. That date is only six months away, and I feel strongly that it is my duty to ascertain that any interested candidates for mayor have plenty of time to organize their upcoming campaigns.
I also feel it is imperative that citizens are fully aware of a petition that four Gahanna residents, two who are employed as the city manager and the development director of New Albany, are circulating to place an issue on the ballot this November. This petition calls for a total rewrite of our city's charter, to remove the full-time mayor and replace the position with a city manager. There are many cities that function well with a city manager or administrator, and I am not necessarily opposed to this idea. The timing to have this discussion is right, as this is the first time in over three decades that there will not be an incumbent running for mayor.
However, I have large concerns with the petition that is circulating, as it calls for the mayor and the council president to be the same person and strips the mayor of all veto power. Our founding fathers believed in the separation of powers, three branches of government and the checks and balances this democratic form of government we hold so dear provides. The city-manager form is quite parliamentarian, with four or five council members holding all the power. Checks and balances inherent in good government would be eliminated.
Whether the mayor is full time or part time is not the issue, in my view. But we should have a mayor who is separately elected by all citizens, one who holds veto power and has some say over the hiring and firing of the city manager. Or the mayor could hire a city administrator that works for him or her if the desire is to have a government that is "professionally managed," which today seems to mean possessing a master's degree in public policy. Of course, I believe that our city is currently professionally managed; but putting my own resume and experience aside, we are blessed to have several directors who have the education and experience to be a city manager right now; the directors and deputy directors all are experts in their fields, and one could not wish for a better team of professionals than those we have now. It is my hope the new folks retain these people to continue to serve Gahanna for the future.
Our current charter, which has served us well for many decades, outlines the way Gahanna's early city leaders felt the charter should be changed. It calls for City Council to call the Charter Review Commission and for the individuals appointed to this commission to study any changes and recommend them to citizens for placement on the ballot. Indeed, this commission, which must be called at least every five years, several times has considered the city-manager form, and the majority repeatedly has chosen not to recommend this change to the voters. If we are to fundamentally change our entire government, a laborious and expensive undertaking, I urge my fellow citizens to only entertain this with careful consideration.
In addition, changing the charter/constitution is not a good way to simply remove elected officials whom you do not like or with whom you do not agree. That's what elections are for.
The city's financial struggles are not due to the form of government we have. If one compares us to Westerville, Dublin, New Albany, etc, the important factor that sets us apart today is the amount of revenue they have, not their form of government.
No matter the outcome, however, I am looking forward to my remaining year-and-a-half in office to continue to make Gahanna, to the best of my ability, one of the best places to live and call your hometown and to ensure an orderly and smooth transition to our next set of city leaders.
Becky Stinchcomb is mayor of Gahanna.