Westerville charter changes would update city's 'constitution'
Five amendments to Westerville's city charter are expected to be considered by voters in November.
Charter-review commission chairman Larry Jenkins, a former Westerville City Council member, said council has accepted five out of six recommendations.
He said the amendments mostly are updates to recognize modern technologies in communication methods or to update the charter to current state laws or processes.
During a May 19 virtual meeting, council rejected a recommended amendment that would have eliminated the residency requirement for the city manager and assistant city manager.
The residency provision is unenforceable under state law.
"Council was concerned (about) what this might look like to the voters while the city was in the middle of a search," Jenkins said.
City Manager David Collinsworth and Assistant Manager Julie Colley announced April 17 they plan to retire effective January 2021.
Charter amendments that are expected to be on the ballot and be voted on as one initiative include:
* Update the meeting and general posting/communication requirements to reflect more modern forms of communication, which would allow for electronic notices and removal of antiquated "posting" requirements.
* Clarify that certain types of legislative action -- generally those that are temporary, informal or ceremonial (including motions) -- would take effect immediately. The charter specifies that except for certain identified types, ordinances and resolutions shall be effective 30 days after passage.
* Change the start and end of council terms to better match the calendar year, which better matches standard government operation and citizens' expectations. Council terms would begin Dec. 1 after the election and would end Nov. 30 at the end of their four-year term. The date of council's annual organizational meeting would be changed to occur on a more efficient date when all members and staff can attend, thus removing the possibility that this meeting could be scheduled on a holiday or Saturday or Sunday evening. The charter currently requires that the council reorganizational meeting must occur Dec. 1 no matter what day it falls on.
* Establish provisions to use elements/procedures from the state's recall statute.
"The rationale for the recall issue really started with the fact that some of the old provisions are just not practical in today's standards," Jenkins said.
"From my knowledge, the city of Westerville has never had a recall attempt or vote, so it was not from that sort of concern that we raised the issue."
When the charter review commission started looking, he said, the group considered recent state updates since they have been established as accepted practice.
"Once we reviewed everything, we actually kept most of our original provisions because we preferred the Westerville standards," Jenkins said. "The main changes we did recommend establish reasonable timing for the process, such as dates to gather signatures and file the petition and the city's time to certify the petition."
The city also would require using standard petition language from the board of elections since it's the established authority in these issues.
"Finally, we (would) change to utilizing the established election dates and processes instead of thinking the city (should) do this within 30 to 45 days," Jenkins said. "That might have worked when we had 6,000 residents but it just is not practical to expect a city of 37,000 residents could conduct an election that could guarantee voter security and fairness."
According to the proposed charter change, Westerville would schedule recall elections to coincide with Ohio's primary and general elections, so they could be conducted by the county board of elections and the Ohio Secretary of State and the city would not have to conduct its own recall election.
* Allow personnel-review board members to also serve on other boards.
Jenkins said the personnel-review board is required as an appeal board for any employment issue involving a nonunion employee.
"Although an important function, I think they have only met for a case something like once in the last 30 years," he said. "The state just made changes that require we have boards to review work injuries for volunteer police and part-time fire employees that do not fall under the normal benefits.
"By making this change to the charter, we allow all the same persons to 'serve' on all three employment review boards instead of having dozens of volunteers who serve but actually never get called to an actual meeting," Jenkins said.
He said these people would still be limited from service if they have an ethical conflict due to employment or other appointment.
The first reading of the charter-amendment ordinance was scheduled June 2; the second reading is scheduled June 16 and third reading is set July 1.
Council clerk Mary Johnston said the public may weigh in during the resident-comment portions of the council meetings.
She also said she would take comments via email at email@example.com prior to each meeting.
Johnston said these comments would be shared with council members prior to the beginning of each meeting.
Christa Dickey, Westerville's community-affairs director, said a charter-review commission is appointed every 10 years to review Westerville's "constitution."
She said a five-member commission last met in January 2010 to review the charter in depth, with a focus on fine-tuning the document that was adopted in 1964.
For more information, go to westerville.org/charter.