New Albany News

Chrysler leading efforts to change Gahanna's government

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The July 25 deadline has passed for Gahanna residents circulating petitions to collect 850 required signatures to place on the November ballot a charter change that would move the city from a mayor-led form of government to one with a city manager.

Gahanna resident Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's community-development director, was taking the lead with Gahanna Citizens for a Prosperous Future regarding the initiative.

She told ThisWeek on July 28 that the political-action committee had collected about 400 of the 850 required signatures, so the group will pursue other avenues and the PAC likely will be dissolved.

Chrysler worked nine years ago as Gahanna's deputy director of community development.

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.

"Voters can get involved in a neutral way," she said. "It isn't a political thing about removing anyone from office. It's to review a charter change in a neutral environment.

"It's hard to do when you have someone in that job."

Gahanna's charter-review commission meets in two years, and a new mayor would be elected by then.

Chrysler said she has spoken with Gahanna council members about commissioning a special charter-review commission to study the issue and make recommendations on how to proceed.

If it's placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the executive government structure would change from a mayoral form to city-manager form.

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.

Chrysler said the proposed charter change isn't modeled after any particular central Ohio city.

"We looked at what would work best for Gahanna," she said. "It's a hybrid of all the communities. It's a combination of best practice in every community. We also added a provision the city manager can only be removed with five votes from council. We feel it's still important to have checks and balances."

After the city manager's selection and appointment (not before the general municipal 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.

"The mayor would be more ceremonial and be the general liaison to council and the city manager," Chrysler said. "You would still have someone to run for elected mayor."

With the size of Gahanna, the fact that it's landlocked and its budget, she said, it's a situation in which a trained professional could help lead an elected official.

Stinchcomb said Chrysler had called to ask if she would run for re-election, but then they didn't discuss the matter again.

She said she would support the change if that's the direction residents want to go.

"There are a lot of reasons people think they're signing a petition," Stinchcomb said. "This is about a change of a form of government.

"Let's focus on what it is and isn't. It's a big and expensive change. It would be a major transition. The divisions of powers would be different. I told (Chrysler) I could possibly see a full-time person -- someone with a master's in public policy -- a trained city manager. Most of my directors have master's degrees in their fields. I thought my resume wasn't too shabby, and the voters thought so, too."

Stinchcomb said she would have appreciated being consulted, having served as mayor for 12 years.

"I'm not totally against the concept," she said. "I don't disagree with timing. The part I have heartburn about is that it wasn't a collaborative effort. They put it out without a phone call; this is what we're going to do. I would have preferred a collaborative process. I understand they need to get on the ballot."

She said the last charter commission discussed a possible change to a city-manager form of government, but commissioners thought it needed more communication with residents.

"They felt it should be vetted with a large segment of the community," Stinchcomb said. "Personally, philosophically, I worry about the form that was chosen."

Gahanna City Council President Brian Larick said he spoke in favor of the city-manager concept in 2011, primarily because of political challenges that exist in a small suburban city. He said he understands how a city manager could be successful.

"Though functionally, neither truly eliminates political strife or excels at managerial success simply due to their structure," Larick said. "The success or failure is the result of the skills and talents of the individuals at the helm, which in turn is determined, one way or another, by the voice of the people."

Larick said he hasn't had an opportunity to read the proposed charter change or determine the compelling reasons to make such a change.

"In excess of 20 pages, this is a long document that must cover a great deal of material, replacing our existing local 'constitution' in whole," he said. "I will be able to provide my thoughts on this initiative once I have had a chance to thoroughly read it. I hope the people of Gahanna will do the same before they take any position for or against it, as this could become the law of the land."

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