A 10-member commission is beginning work to determine if any changes to the Upper Arlington city charter should be put before voters, possibly as soon as this fall.

Roughly every 10 years, Upper Arlington City Council appoints members of the community to review the city charter, a legal document that defines the city government's structure, functions and procedures.

This current Upper Arlington Charter Review Commission was appointed in November. Each sitting council member at that time made an appointment, as did Brian Close, Michele Hoyle and Jim Lynch, who were elected to council Nov. 7 and took office at the start of this year.

Commission members are:

John C. Adams, Bob Dunn, Megan Heydlauff, Mary Ann Krauss, Maria Mone, Matt Petersen, Jon Secrest, Rich Simpson, Elizabeth Fenner Yassenoff and Julie Bruce Zogbaum.

City Attorney Jeanine Hummer will sit in on charter commission meetings, but she said she won't take an active role in recommending changes. Rather, she will provide historical context to the group, as well as suggestions for improving charter language for any proposed revisions.

"It is up to the commission to review the information and make a determination of whether they want to recommend changes to the charter language," Hummer said. "I advise them as legal counsel to the city.

"If they have a request for language, I would draft the language. However, because my role is responsive to the commission, I wait on direction from the commission as to what articles they are looking to review."

The commission held an organizational meeting Jan. 16. Its second meeting, open to the public, is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Municipal Services Center, 3600 Tremont Road.

It is expected to meet once or twice a month to discuss the city charter and possible revisions or additions. After it concludes discussions, the group can make recommendations for changes to City Council, which then decides if those changes should be put to a citywide vote.

If recommendations are made, they're likely to come forward in June so council could consider putting proposed charter revisions on the November ballot.

Adams, who left council at the end of 2017 after serving six years and choosing not to seek re-election, is chairman of the group. He said each member has the opportunity to recommend areas of the charter to review for changes.

As of January, only Adams had offered possible review topics. He's interested in examining how the city fills vacancies that come up on council, the procedures for placing recall issues on the ballot and which city employees should report to council, as opposed to department heads and the city manager.

"Anything in the charter is open for discussion," he said. "These are starting points for discussion."

Adams said he made his review recommendations because each has sparked some degree of controversy over the past 10 years.

Council vacancies

In 2016, a dispute arose after former Councilman Mike Schadek resigned in April that year with more than three years left on his term.

Council's remaining six members appointed Sue Ralph to fill the vacancy through Jan. 9. 2017. Citing the city charter, Hummer maintained council could fill the rest of Schadek's term by reappointing Ralph or someone else annually to one-year terms.

However, in September 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with Upper Arlington resident Omar Ganoom, who argued a citywide election should be held to determine who should fill the seat for the final three years of Schadek's term.

Ultimately, Ralph won a special election over Ganoom and currently is serving the balance of Schadek's term. But Adams, who originally was appointed to council himself, said clarity in filling vacancies is needed.

"The description of how a vacancy is filled, it's not very clear," he said. "It's not precise enough."

Recall

In an August 2016 special election, Adams, David DeCapua, Kip Greenhill and Debbie Johnson prevailed in the city's first bid to remove city officials by recall vote. It was brought on by residents who, at least in part, were unhappy with council's handling of plans to redevelop Northam Park.

By reviewing recall procedures, Adams said he's in no way proposing to make requirements more stringent. He noted many are governed by state law, and he still supports residents' rights to hold a recall if they collect the required number of signatures from certified Upper Arlington voters.

"I'm not sure we need to look at it, but I was trying to look at what were the most controversial issues," Adams said.

Of specific interest to Adams is a charter provision that requires a council vote in order to schedule a special election after recall petitions are validated by the Franklin County Board of Elections.

"If there's a requirement already in place that a special election has to be held when a recall petition is certified, should council have to vote?" he asked.

Reporting hierarchy

Currently, Upper Arlington's city manager, city attorney and city clerk report directly to council and serve at the pleasure of council.

Among other stipulations, that means only council can hire or fire those employees. The rest report to their respective department heads and, ultimately, the city manager.

Adams said he's interested in evaluating if the city manager, city attorney and city clerk should report directly to council and if any other city positions also should report to council.

He said he can't imagine a scenario in which the city manager wouldn't report to council, and there are only a handful of other city positions that are likely to be discussed as potential direct reportees to council.

"You want checks and balances in place and we want to determine which positions are important enough that we want to make sure they report directly to City Council," he sad.

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