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Downsizing commission on ballot

Andy Ouriel • May 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Local public officials surprisingly agreed their government’s too big and actually did something about it.


What’s next? Congressional Republicans inviting fellow Democrats across the aisle to a picnic? The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series? Humans walking on water?

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, Sandusky politicians crossed off one seemingly impossible task from their insurmountable list on Monday.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to proceed with downsizing the number of elected representatives from seven to five.

For formality reasons, commissioners will take another vote on the measure later this month. In all likelihood, the count should stay the same.

Come November, a citywide vote should now occur, and eligible residents can decide whether they prefer five or seven commissioners representing them.

Hypothetically, if approved in a majority-rules election, the soonest a reduction could happen would be in fall 2015.

At this time, four of the seven city commission seats are up for election with terms starting in January 2016.

So instead of four positions being elected, two would be elected, joining the other three incumbents. All commissioners will still have four-year terms and be elected on a staggered basis — four elected in fall 2015, then three elected in fall 2017.

Ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., Dick Brady and Naomi Twine all just won four-year terms beginning in January, and each can remain on commission through 2017.

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

The commissioners up for election come fall 2015: Wes Poole, Scott Schell and Jeff Smith. Smith cast the only dissenting vote in shrinking commission’s body count.

“I see absolutely no benefit to the citizens of Sandusky by reducing the amount of commissioners,” Smith said. “Reducing the amount of representatives would in fact reduce the ability for the citizens to communicate with their legislators. I see this as a distraction to our real problems”

Other commissioners starkly disagreed with Smith’s assessment.

“Unlike Mr. Smith, I think there are some benefits that will come to the citizens if we reduce the commission to five,” Poole said. “If we increased to nine commissioners, it’s not as if your ability to accomplish anything will go up”

Said Murray: “Five commissioners will enhance the commission’s ability to be cohesive and to get on the same page. I don’t think we have a problem with citizen outreach. The problem with a seven-person commission is it allows for people to not completely participate in the consensus once a decision is made”

Before the November 2014 election, commissioners plan on educating residents about the decision they’ll make.

“I’m not 100 percent convinced going from seven to five is the way to go, but I’m not totally against it either,” Schell said. “That said, I look forward to the next couple of weeks to getting a little more citizen input on this right now and not waiting five or six months to talk about the pros and cons. If this is what the citizens feel is the direction they want to go in, then by all means we will go for it”

Brady, Farrar and Twine on Monday did not publicly voice their opinions on this matter. In past interviews with the Register, each one supported downsizing commission.

Since 1980, seven city residents have constituted the commission. Before 1980, five people served as commissioners.

Five commissioners, as opposed to 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.

Timeline for possibly downsizing Sandusky city commission

•MONDAY: Commissioners voted 6-1 to proceed with possibly downsizing the number of elected representatives from seven to five.

•MAY 27: For formality reasons, commissioners will once again vote on the measure. In all likelihood, the vote should stay the same.

•NOV. 4: Sandusky residents will decide whether or not they want five or seven elected commissioners in a majority-rules vote during the election.

•NOVEMBER 2015: The next election to select commissioners. If a majority of voters want five total commissioners, then there will only be two open seats candidates can seek out rather than four. These two winners would then join the three incumbents whose terms aren’t up for another two years at this point in time.

JANUARY 2016: The soonest a decrease in the number of commissioners could officially occur, since the four-year terms begin in even-numbered years.

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