Olentangy Valley News

Powell voters reject secrecy charter amendment

Seven pass easily, but voters nix one that would’ve expanded council’s right to meet privately

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Voters rejected a proposal Tuesday, May 5, that would have expanded Powell City Council’s right to meet privately.

With 100 percent of Powell precincts reporting Tuesday night, unofficial Primary Election final results from the Delaware County Board of Elections showed the proposed amendment to the city charter losing by a 388 (61 percent) to 245 (39 percent) vote.

Seven other charter amendments passed easily.

The failed amendment would have allowed council to enter “executive sessions” behind closed doors to discuss any item if five of seven council members agreed it was necessary during a public meeting.

“I do think there was some confusion about what the purpose of that amendment was,” said Mayor Richard Cline, “however, that’s what voters decided and that’s what it’s going to be.

“I’m pleased that voters approved the other seven proposals to the charter,” Cline said. “I think all eight were warranted and appropriate, but voters decided otherwise.”

Critics said the failed amendment violated the spirit of Ohio’s open meetings law, and might have been on shaky legal ground.

Among council members, only Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner opposed the amendment.

Other council members argued it would have given council more flexibility to negotiate economic-incentive deals with companies interested in moving to Powell, among other potential uses.

The 2009 Ohio Sunshine Laws allow closed meetings only under specific circumstances,

But because Powell’s government operates under a charter, the Ohio Constitution allows officials to change some of the state’s provisions in the Open Meetings Act.

Had it passed, it’s unclear if the open-ended nature of the amendment would have withstood a court’s scrutiny.

However, Cline and City Attorney Gene Hollins said they believe the nature of the proposal was well within the city’s rights.

Among the successful amendments is one that might help curb frequent absenteeism by council members.

Unofficial results showed it passing 448 votes (70 percent) to 192 votes (30 percent).

The amendment gives council power to declare a seat vacant if a member is absent for two consecutive calendar months – equal to four consecutive meetings.

Expulsion from council is not the automatic result of four consecutive absences, but council now has the option once that mark is reached.

Other potential punishments could be a public reprimand, fine, forfeiture of pay or suspension from committee assignments.

During early discussions, council members agreed it would be reasonable to consider exceptions for absent council members with a sufficient excuse.

Also on the ballot were:

• An amendment to extend term lengths for members of the City Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals from three to four years. It passed 411 votes (66 percent) to 214 votes (34 percent).

• An amendment to streamline rules for seeking and awarding contracts for public improvements. It passed 474 votes (75 percent) to 159 votes (25 percent).

• An amendment to establish a review of the charter at least once every 10 years. It passed 450 votes (72 percent) to 179 votes (28 percent).

• An amendment to clarify the procedure for the filing and consideration of a referendum on a city ordinance. It passed 462 votes (73 percent) to 168 votes (27 percent).

• An amendment to align the city’s conflict of interest policy for city officials with corresponding state laws. It passed 527 votes (82 percent) to 114 votes (18 percent).

• An amendment to reorganize the charter and make other “non-substantive” changes. It passed 408 votes (64 percent) to 226 votes (36 percent).

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