If Hilliard City Council were to seek a charter amendment asking voters to change the city's form of government, a two-thirds super-majority of its members – at least five of the seven – must agree to send it to the ballot.

Whether that level of support exists is unclear, but Councilman Les Carrier has asked for legislation to be introduced Monday, April 9, that would create a Nov. 6 ballot issue to change the city's form of government from a "strong-mayor" model to a city-manager model via a charter amendment.

The legislation would have a second reading April 23 and a final reading May 14, per council's meeting timeline.

Carrier said it is necessary to advance the legislation quickly to allow, in the event of its defeat, time to carry out an initiative petition and still meet the Aug. 8 filing deadline at the Franklin County Board of Elections for the November general election.

However, the super-majority to do so is in doubt. Some council members have said they believe the strong-mayor form of government has served Hilliard well, while others have expressed concern about how the charter amendment would be presented.

"You're doing it half-assed if you're not doing all aspects of it," Councilman Nathan Painter said during a 2 1/2-hour special session April 2. "If you're going to do it, do it right."

Although he was "open" to the idea of a city manager, the timeline is too aggressive, he said.

Painter said City Council should take the time necessary to deliver a single battery of charter-amendment proposals -- a charter-review commission has been working for almost a year and is expected to present recommendations in a few months -- that could include the abolition of partisan elections, the institution of term limits and electing council members by a combination of at-large and ward seats.

But Carrier contends putting the city-manager option before voters cannot wait.

"It's about changing the way we do business. Grove-tucky isn't Grove-tucky anymore. They're winning. ... We are falling behind our neighbors," said Carrier, using a local tongue-in-cheek reference to Grove City, the once rural community in southwest Franklin County that has undergone a recent rebirth with new commercial and residential developments.

He called attention to complaints that residents and small-business owners have voiced at recent council meetings concerning infrastructure, city codes and "financial management" after Heather Ernst, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, was indicted last month for theft in office.

Council President Albert Iosue said he concurred with Painter's concern.

"I don't understand why it's an emergency. (A city manager) can be effective anytime," Iosue said.

He said that in his 10 years on council, more time was used to solicit input from residents for much lesser actions, including myriad traffic proposals and master plans.

"And now, in a matter of two months, we are rewriting a charter without asking for any public opinion?" Iosue asked.

Furthermore, Iosue said, acting to place any charter-amendment proposal on the November ballot would "cut the legs out from under" the charter-review commission.

Carrier said he believes it is appropriate to pursue the city-manager question because the commission already has considered it. The commission voted 10-1 in February against changing to a city-manager style of government.

He said the question also must be presented to voters in November, before the filing deadline in February 2019 for primary elections for council members and mayor later in 2019.

Even with elections for council and mayor in 2019, Painter said, the question should wait.

"Maybe the mayor doesn't finish a term (and some financial agreement must be reached)," he said, about a change to city manager occurring during the middle of a mayor's term. "That's the price for doing this right."

Painter said a city manager also "is not the panacea" its proponents sometimes make it.

"(A change to city manager) will not be champagne and oysters ... it will still be a lot of hard work," he said.

Other responses

Kurt Gearhiser, chairman of the charter-review commission, told council members April 2 it was "ridiculous" to act so quickly to place the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"Where is the rush? Citizens should be given the opportunity to discuss the issue," he said. "It can't be rushed like this. ... Let's do it right."

Gearhiser also said a change from a strong-mayor to a city manager form of government is not as simple as it might appear.

Mayor Don Schonhardt, who will complete his fourth term as mayor at the end of next year, was not present April 2.

When contacted April 3, Schonhardt said as a resident of Hilliard, he opposes a shift to a city manager because "I am unwilling to surrender my right to have a direct say in who leads this city."

A model in which City Council chooses a city manager vests too much power in the council, he said.

"Without the current system of checks and balances (in a strong-mayor form of government) between executive and legislative branches of government, you turn over the operations to a single branch of government, which in my opinion is never a wise choice," Schonhardt said.

Two other residents offered differing views April 2.

Omar Tarazi told council members Hilliard is limiting itself by electing a mayor who must live in Hilliard when "a better choice might be living in Texas" in the form of a city manager.

"(Electing a mayor) is a huge limitation. I support the change," he said.

Mel Sims, who also is an alternate member of the charter-review commission, cautioned council members not to "cherry pick" but to "look at both sides" and take the time to consider whether any cities that made a change to a city manager experienced any problems.

Associated changes

Law director Tracy Bradford provided council members a draft version of how the city charter would be rewritten to provide for a city manager, which could become effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Carrier and Councilman Andy Teater said that if a charter change were approved in November, 13 months was sufficient time to advertise for, interview and offer a job to a city manager.

Council members also would have to finalize myriad changes associated with a shift to city manager, including policy for the hiring and firing of department directors, whether a city manager serves "at will" or has a contract, which supervisors report to the city manager or City Council and the nomination and appointment of numerous advisory boards and commissions, most notably the planning-and-zoning commission.

City Council also would need to determine if Hilliard would retain a ceremonial mayor, how that person would be selected and his or her duties, and the civil-service commission would be abolished under the city-manager structure.

Bradford said the civil-service commission no longer would be necessary because an appointed city manager would be responsible for employment opportunity rather than an elected mayor.

The commission exists, Bradford explained, as a barrier to "cronyism" and the practice of an elected, partisan mayor offering jobs to preferred candidates.

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