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Springfield considers charter review

Some say mandatory reviews can produce bad results.

The city could create a review committee to examine possible changes to the Springfield charter.

The review committee, proposed by Commissioner Dan Martin, would recommend possible changes to the city’s charter, providing guidance on items that could be good to address, Martin said. Any changes would have to be approved by a three-fourths vote of the city commission to be put on the ballot for voters.

“It’s not mandatory that you accept these changes, but it gives you ideas, it gives you some things to think about,” Martin said. “I just think since it’s something we haven’t done in awhile, I think it makes sense to either do it or put some sort authority out there where we have a process for doing it.”

The charter is like the city’s constitution, Martin said, and “every so often it makes sense to have some citizen input” on possible changes that are outdated.

Martin made the proposal at last month’s annual retreat, and it was established by commission as a goal for this year.

The preliminary proposal by Martin would allow the review committee to meet every seven years. The committee would be composed of 11 members with each commissioner making two recommendations and the final member being selected by city staff. The committee would make a final report no later than nine months after the committee is established.

“It’s basically a consulting board that looks at things, gives some feedback and develops some potential amendments,” Martin said. “There’s probably some small things that need to be fixed, that seem dated. There might be some out-of-the-box ideas that people have, too.”

Other cities in Ohio, Martin said, have a provision review their charter over time. Newark, for example, reviews its charter every five years.

“There’s usually some effort to include a periodic charter review and have a committee to recommend changes to the commission on possible charter changes,” Martin said.

Martin, who was re-elected for his fifth term last year, said he’s unsure if the city had “systematically reviewed” the city’s charter.

“It’s something we haven’t done in recent memory,” Martin said.

Mayor Warren Copeland said the city has suggested specific changes to the charter but hasn’t performed a full review.

City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill supported the idea.

“It’s good for checks and balances,” O’Neill said. “The citizens need to have somewhere to go.”

O’Neill said the charter has withstood the test of time, but likes the idea of having somebody from the outside take a look at it.

The review committee process can lead to citizens believing they need to do something, said Law Director Jerry Strozdas. He believes “institutionalizing” charter review can lead to consequences commissioners “may not intend.” Strozdas was previously the law director for New Carlisle, which has a review committee at least every eight years.

“(The committee) feels they need to put together recommendations and whether it’s broken or not, they want to give you fixes,” Strozdas said.

City Manager Jim Bodenmiller believes it’s a good idea to review the charter, but said he’s spoken with other city managers who say the review committee can create fighting amongst citizens every five to 10 years.

The city’s charter was originally adopted by citizens in 1913 and went into effect in 1914. Changes were approved by citizens in 1965, according to the charter. The most recent changes were adopted by citizens in 2002, which included the direct election of the mayor.

New Carlisle performed its most recent charter review last year. The committee is composed of five citizens and reviews the charter, then brings back recommendations for the city council. The review produced several recommended changes that were approved by the council, including making the charter viewable online and changing requirements for the position of city manager, among others.

The changes, however, were rejected by voters last November.

“It gives you fresh eyes, people who don’t maybe work in the government day-to-day,” said New Carlisle city manager Kim Jones. “You can bring in outside opinions and thoughts.”

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