Hilliard voters will decide on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot whether they want to switch their form of government to a city manager who is appointed by Hilliard City Council or continue with an elected mayor.
Supporters of the switch via charter amendment say it would help the city's government run more efficiently. It also would align Hilliard with its suburban neighbors, many of which have adopted a city-manager approach to leadership.
Those who oppose Issue 33, including City Council President Albert Iosue, say eliminating an elected mayor would undercut the system of checks and balances – isolating too much power in one branch.
In a council-city manager model, a council sets a direction for the city – through legislation and a budget – and the city manager is tasked with the day-to-day execution, Councilman Pete Marsh said.
That model also would eliminate having a mayor with veto powers who might have ideas that compete with the council, he said.
"Right now, we unfortunately have a situation where there's a tug in two different directions, which makes for some inefficient processes and inefficient decisions," Marsh said.
But Iosue said the dissent that occasionally arises isn't worth tearing up the current system.
"Sometimes, the disagreements between the mayor and City Council may cause things to slow down, but I don't think that's a bad thing," Iosue said. "We want to have an administrative branch and a legislative branch: One person or one entity doesn't have the full power."
Marsh, however, emphasized that council members are elected by voters and if residents don't like the decisions being made, they can vote them out.
Having a council-city manager system would heighten City Council's accountability because when voters "hear something they like or don't like, they will know it came from a direction set by City Council," Marsh said. "There's no more passing the buck saying it was someone else's decision."
In May, City Council voted 5-1 to bring Issue 33 before voters. Iosue was the lone dissenter, though, he said, he isn't the only council member who supports keeping a mayor-council, or "strong-mayor" form of government. Some voted for it, he said, because they believed residents should make the call.
The change also would undercut the citizen-led charter-review commission, which voted 10-1 in February to stick with the current system as part of its yearlong study of ways to improve the city's government, Iosue said.
If Issue 33 is approved, the change in governance would begin Jan. 1, 2020.
Mayor Don Schonhardt's fourth term will expire Dec. 31, 2019.
Schonhardt did not respond to a text message seeking comment for this story but said earlier this year he opposed such a change because it erodes the current system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of local government.
When Doug Francis, the city's director of communications and information technology, was asked for comment, he replied the city did not have a statement from the mayor and was not aware of any organized opposition to Issue 33.
Councilman Nathan Painter said changing forms of governance wouldn't be a "magic bullet" for solving the city's issues.
"A certain number of people think a city manager is a magic potion that will solve all our problems," he said.
It won't, for example, solve Hilliard's need for increased revenue, Painter said, and it won't solve what he perceives as a lack of leadership from the Schonhardt administration rather than a problem with the "strong-mayor" form of government in general.
He said the strong-mayor form works well with good leadership.
However, ever since Issue 9 – a 2016 charter amendment that prohibits rezonings by emergency action of City Council and bans tax-increment-financing districts for residential developments or residential components of development – Painter said he has noticed a lack of leadership from Schonhardt's administration.
Meanwhile, many of the proponents of Issue 9, including council members Tom Baker, Les Carrier and Andy Teater, have supported Issue 33.
"In politics, you win some and you lose some but you have to show up," Painter said. "That's not leadership. (Not leading) is like a child not getting his way and going home. That's not how adults govern."
ThisWeek reporter Kevin Corvo contributed to this story.