Rocky Fork Enterprise

Petition signatures fall way short

City-manager question won't be on ballot in Gahanna

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A special charter-review commission might convene to consider moving Gahanna from a mayor-led form of government to one with a city manager now that a citizen-led group has failed to get enough signatures to put it before voters in November.

Gahanna resident Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's director of community development, was taking the lead with Gahanna Citizens for a Prosperous Future regarding the initiative. She said about 400 of 850 needed signatures were collected to place the charter change before voters.

"That's pretty good, considering the short amount of time and the issue is complicated," she said. "We had a good success rate going house to house, but we spent at least 20 minutes at each house. We feel like it has been a success. It was an opportunity to educate and discuss. We couldn't be happier with the outcome."

When she learned longtime Mayor Becky Stinchcomb wasn't going to seek re-election in 2015, Chrysler said, it seemed the right time to put the charter-change request on the ballot.

She said voters could review a charter change in a neutral environment, as no incumbent would be on the ballot for the first time in decades.

Stinchcomb told ThisWeek she isn't against the concept of a city-manager type of government, but she would have liked a collaborative effort with the group.

In a ThisWeek guest column, Stinchcomb pointed to four Gahanna residents circulating the petition to place the charter change on the ballot, including Chrysler and New Albany's city manager.

Chrysler said the group was a committee of 24 residents who were involved in the effort.

"They were residents from all different parties and affiliations, no special-interest groups in particular," she said. "No one group was pushing this over another. It was nice to bring people together and share a common dialogue. It made it very apolitical. The city manager of New Albany was not part of that."

Stinchcomb said she later learned that New Albany City Manager Joseph Stefanov's son, with the same first name, was attending meetings and answering questions related to the proposed changes.

Chrysler said the PAC would be dissolved.

She said a suggestion came from some Gahanna City Council members to convene a special charter-review commission to study the issue.

"It shows phenomenal leadership on behalf of council," she said. "I'm thankful for that suggestion."

She credited council members Tom Kneeland, Karen Angelou and Michael Schnetzer with the idea.

"There would be open dialogue," Chrysler said. "This has started a great dialogue. Everyone agrees this is great timing. The fact that a citizens group can study all the ins and outs would bode well for the community, making it more of an open process and continuing the dialogue in a constructive way."

She said the special commission could make a recommendation about how to proceed.

Kneeland, council vice president, said he has questions about the structure and the number of changes required to Gahanna's charter based on the proposal that was presented by the citizen-led group.

The proposal from the group shows the executive government structure would change from a mayoral form to city-manager form of government. A transitional year would take place from Jan. 2, 2015, to Jan. 1, 2016. During that time, the mayor and council would conduct a search for a city manager.

The mayor would retain normal powers and responsibilities during the transitional year, according to a summary of the proposed charter change.

After the city manager's selection and appointment (not before the general election in November 2015), the city manager would be the executive head of the city government and would be responsible for the administration of all municipal affairs.

A new mayor would be popularly elected during the general municipal election in November 2015.

The new mayor would have the powers and responsibilities of an at-large council member. The new mayor also would retain some of the traditional powers to appoint persons to boards and commissions.

As of Jan. 2, 2016, City Council would comprise four ward members and three at-large members, with one serving as the mayor.

Chrysler said the proposed charter change wasn't modeled after any particular central Ohio city, but it's a hybrid of best practices of many communities.

Kneeland said he's looking forward to reviewing the issue brought forth by the residents, saying he wants to make sure the city has the appropriate leadership and structure to guide the city successfully into the future but at the same time maintain the people's ability to choose and effect change.

"I don't know if this could be done yet this year; however, depending on the consensus of council, I believe we have the latitude to convene the charter commission for a special session at any time," he said. "This is no easy issue since there are a number of facets that would need to be reviewed, evaluated and tested before a recommendation could be finalized by a charter commission and any action placed on the ballot by council. There are costs, benefits and different configurations for a city-manager type of government that absolutely need to be carefully considered."

Kneeland said it would be a major change for Gahanna and should be vetted with due diligence and appropriate research to make sure the form and function of any proposal would be sustainable for the long term and accepted by the majority of the residents while protecting the voters' rights for choice.

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