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Murray: 5 would be better than 7

Andy Ouriel • Feb 17, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Many people often complain government’s too big, whether in Washington, Columbus or even Sandusky.

Unfortunately for some, the number of elected state and federal positions likely won’t decrease anytime soon.

But at the local level, several Sandusky city commissioners actually support downsizing their own board.

Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. recently pushed forward legislation that would reduce the number of commissioners from seven to five. Murray’s one of seven elected commissioners.    

For this to occur, however, these triggers must happen:

1. At least four of the seven commissioners would need to approve Murray’s proposal through a public vote.

2. Residents, during an election, would determine whether they want either five or seven commissioners. A vote during an election could occur as soon as November.

Hypothetically, if approved, the soonest a change could happen would be in fall 2015, when four of seven city commission seats are up for election. These terms would start in January.

“Instead of four positions being elected, two would be elected,” Murray said. “Commissioners will still have four-year terms and be elected on a staggered basis “

Among the commissioners up for election come fall 2015: Jeff Smith, Wes Poole and Keith Grohe.

Commissioner Julie Farrar can’t run again because of term limits, making her seat open for someone else to occupy.

Murray along with commissioners Dick Brady and Naomi Twine just won four-year terms, beginning in January, and can remain on commission through 2017.

Since 1980, city commission has been comprised of seven Sandusky residents. Before 1980, five people served as commissioners.

Five commissioners, versus seven, could also mean each elected official obtains a small boost in pay. Commissioners today make about $5,200 a year, or $100 a week, with the ex officio mayor receiving $6,400 annually.

Any salary shed from two fewer officials would be divvied up between the remaining five commissioners.

The Register asked all seven commissioners for their opinion on the proposed change and whether they support this measure.

Here are the responses:

“I am strongly in favor of this legislation. Seven-member commissions have proven in the past to be difficult to gain a consensus on. As part-time legislators, we are required to spend a lot of time lobbying our fellow commissioners on the merits of actions that affect our city. I believe that reducing our numbers will encourage competent people to seek these offices, knowing that they can create positive change with the support of only two fellow commissioners (three out of five for a consensus)”

— Dick Brady

“I am in full support of reducing the size of commission. I feel going to five commissioners is much more manageable. You will spend less time trying to rally support for issues, and you will also be able to handle the city’s business more swiftly with less people”

— Julie Farrar

“Larger groups tend to allow some members to ‘hide’ and also are more likely to splinter. By contrast, smaller groups are more likely to achieve consensus. When you combine that with the fact that the composition of this particular group usually changes every two years, it is more difficult for the group to be cohesive”

— Dennis Murray Jr., ex officio mayor

“Salary increase and reducing the size of commission are two separate ballot issues. Both should be approved for terms beginning in 2016. Reduce the commission by two. Divide the salaries saved between the five. There will be no cost increase to the citizens”

— Wes Poole

“Citizens want representation within our city government. Reducing the amount of commissioners will reduce their representation. I see no value to the city of Sandusky or the citizens of Sandusky in reducing the number of commissioners. The main issues that top the list from citizens are neighborhoods and jobs. In my discussions with citizens, reduction of commission has never come up”

— Jeff Smith

“Sandusky has consistently lost population since a high of approximately 33,000 people in 1970 to a current estimate of approximately 25,000 people (today). Based upon the decrease in population, it would seem reasonable to lessen the number of commissioners. Also, as people who work with other people know, it’s easier to get a smaller group going in the same direction than trying to get a larger group on the same page”

— Naomi Twine

Commissioner Keith Grohe did not respond to this request. He hasn’t attended a city commission meeting for several months because of health reasons.

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