Les Carrier is urging his peers to put the city's form of government on the ballot in November.

After a spirited debate Feb. 26, Hilliard City Council members might make their own move to change the city's form of government instead of waiting for the charter-review commission to finish its work.

If Councilman Les Carrier's plans come to fruition, voters could be asked to decide as soon as November's general election whether the city should keep its "strong-mayor" form of government or switch to a city-manager model via a charter amendment.

Although his peers appeared to agree that residents should have the opportunity to choose among the two options and an informational "framework" on the logistics of implementing a city-manager form are being prepared, they disagreed on when it should be considered, with Carrier saying the decision needs to be made sooner than later and council President Al Iosue contending timing is not an issue.

In the middle is the 11-member charter-review commission, which recommended Feb. 7 that the city not consider switching to a traditional city-manager form of government at all.

"We need to decide this issue before (the charter-review commission) finishes their work," Carrier said Feb. 27.

He said a decision is needed this November before municipal elections for mayor and three council members in November 2019.

Because Hilliard has partisan primaries, the filing deadline for next year's general election is in early February 2019. The filing deadline for an issue to appear on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot is Aug. 8, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections.

Meanwhile, without an extension, the charter-review commission is required to submit its final recommendations to City Council by Aug. 23, 2018, 12 months after convening. City Council then would have to decide to accept any or all of the proposed changes and whether to put them on an election ballot.

Iosue said the commission should be able to finish its work.

"I think it is irresponsible (to take action) before the commission even finishes," Iosue said Feb. 27. "The commission has spent a lot of time and effort and they were tasked not just with looking at the form of government but reviewing the whole charter."

Iosue said he favors the continuation of the city's strong-mayor form of government.

"We've (always) had a strong-mayor form of government (and) the issue could be discussed next year. ... Timing has nothing to do with it," he said. "Just because the commission moved in a direction (some members of council) don't like, they want to undercut the commission."

Commission's work

Council Vice President Kelly McGivern said Feb. 27 that she shares the concern that commission members would feel slighted.

The members of the commission volunteered their time and effort "and we owe it to them to give them the opportunity to finish their work," McGivern said.

She also said voters should have the opportunity to consider the city's form of government.

Kurt Gearhiser, chairman of the charter-review commission, was not present at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting when Carrier suggested that the administration prepare legislation for a city manager form of government.

He said Feb. 27 that he was "disappointed that council chose (to act) before we finished."

But, Gearhiser said, the commission is charged "with looking at all the issues in the charter" and would continue its work.

Because the commission recommended not moving toward a city-manager form of government, Gearhiser said, there are intricate aspects of such a change the commission never considered.

"(A change to a city manager) needs to be a long-term process; it can't be implemented in a year," Gearhiser said.

That's why Carrier said he wants the process to begin now.

'Framework' approach

Carrier's motion Feb. 26 for the administration to draft legislation was stayed, Carrier said, after Councilman Nathan Painter agreed to work with law director Tracy Bradford on the request. Bradford declined to comment on her role and referred inquiries to Painter.

"The idea is based on (some of) council's desire for a city manager and that we work from an informational stance to provide a framework of a city-manager form of government," Painter said Feb. 27.

In a city-manager form of government, the city manager is appointed and serves at the pleasure of City Council, in a similar manner to a school district's superintendent.

Painter said he has no preference between a strong-mayor and city-manager form of government, but he suggested working with Bradford "as a compromise between those who want to explore a city manager sooner rather than later and those who want to allow the commission to finish their work."

Painter said the framework, which could be presented as soon as council's next meeting March 12, would not be legislation and that he would not support any such legislation through the safety and legal-affairs committee, for which he serves as chairman.

Carrier said Feb. 27 he would wait to review what the administration brings forward but "wants the city-manager alternative before voters before we enter the next municipal cycle."

"Otherwise, you could have the city-manager issue on at the same time you have mayoral candidates, and that simply doesn't make sense," he said.

If the question is not placed on the ballot by council ordinance, which would require five of the seven members voting in favor of it, Carrier said, he has not excluded the possibility of an initiative petition.

A super-majority is required for placement of any issue on the ballot by council, according to Carrier.

"This is an issue for our citizens to decide; it's above all of our pay grades," he said.

Carrier said Keep Hilliard Beautiful would organize public forums later this year to assess public opinion on the preferred form of government.

Keep Hilliard Beautiful is the organization Carrier, Councilman Andy Teater (then a school board member), school board member Paul Lambert and others formed in 2016 to back Issue 9, which voters approved to amend the city charter to prohibit City Council from rezoning by emergency and from using tax-increment-financing agreements for residential developments and those with residential components.

"I feel obligated to bring the city-manager question before voters because I campaigned on the issue," Teater said.