Downsizing commission on ballot

Sandusky seeks to go from seven to five commissioners
Andy Ouriel
May 14, 2014
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.

Comments

SamAdams

It seems from the comment by Mr. Murray that the whole idea is to set up a slate of Commissioners who won't disagree on anything. While a consensus may, indeed, be more likely with fewer sitting on the Commission, that in no way guarantees more decisions will be the right ones. In fact, it jeopardizes the benefits of dissent! Given that Commissioners are only paid a pittance so real cost saving won't be realized, either, I wonder just how much sense this REALLY makes...

Justme...

Murray states..."The problem with a seven-person commission is it allows for people to not completely participate in the consensus once a decision is made"

I think his point is dissention is fine, but once a vote is taken, it becomes the vote of the board, of which you are a member, even if you disagree with that vote. If you disagree with a vote, the board becomes dysfunctional if you fight that vote. I'm not sure how fewer commissioners changes this, but that seemed to be his point.

SamAdams

Yes, I'm not sure how fewer commissioners changes that, either. which was MY point!

Justme...

Also, in every article, the SR begins by saying this as an effort to shrink government, and I agree with you, this does nothing or very little to save money, so it won't shrink government. It sounds like commissioners in favor of this simply think fewer members will work better together and get more done. I think we can all agree that 20 commissioners would spell chaos. And two commissioners is not enough opinions and representation. So what's the optimal number?

SamAdams

Maybe they should hinge the number of commissioners on the current population. One commissioner for every X-thousand residents. Congressional Representatives are based on population, why not City Commissioners? At least then we could stay consistent without over- or under-burdening anybody!

Nemesis

"I think his point is dissention is fine, but once a vote is taken, it becomes the vote of the board, of which you are a member, even if you disagree with that vote. If you disagree with a vote, the board becomes dysfunctional if you fight that vote."

Can you name an instance where a dissenting commissioner has stopped a majority-passed resolution of the commission from being carried out? Did the dissidents on Ard's dismissal, for instance, prevent her being escorted out of the building? Have there been outbreaks of violence in the commission chambers?

Justme...

No, I really can't name an example. I was just pointing out the difference between everyone agreeing and being yes-men, and everyone respecting and participating in decisions once a vote is taken.

Nor'easter

First do what you have been elected to do: Separate Storm and Sanitary Sewers. (Under federal EPA mandated court order with fines unpaid) Replace ancient water lines that are failing all over the city. Rebuild and repave nearly every street in the city and repair and repave Shoreline Park and Jackson St Pier. Fund repairs by admissions tax of 8% to repay the citizens for their investment in Cedar Point corridor at the cost of 50 years of deferred city maintenance. Remove the 300 plus dead trees that belong to the city and endanger residents and their property. Change the city income tax to stop exempting the foreign workers and Bike week vendors that come take the money and run. When this is accomplished you will have a vibrant city again. Then we can talk about changing the commission instead of RECALLING all on you.

Nemesis

"Fund repairs by admissions tax of 8% to repay the citizens for their investment in Cedar Point corridor at the cost of 50 years of deferred city maintenance."

Foolish idea based on a false premise fueled by class warfare agitprop.

"Change the city income tax to stop exempting the foreign workers"

Can you elaborate on this excemption and provide a citation?

DGMutley

"Foolish idea based on a false premise fueled by class warfare agitprop." -- Gobbledygook.

The only exemption for city income tax that I see in the codified ordinances for Sandusky that would pertain to CP's seasonal help is no one under 18 is taxed. 191.10 Exemptions.

JT Adams St

“The problem with a seven-person commission is it allows for people to not completely participate in the consensus once a decision is made.”

To my knowledge, the city commission is not a Quaker institution, and does not require consensus. Since when did "consensus" become the key to effective city government?

Also, what stumbling block has the presence of 7 commissioners placed in the way of the Murray agenda? He wanted Nicole Ard fired, and she was fired. Although several commissioners were not part of the "consensus" on that issue, the seven-member commission was nevertheless able to rapidly hire a new city manager. How would that process have been expedited if the city had two fewer commissioners?

Similarly, Murray spoke earlier this year about increasing the city's revenues to address the city's budget crisis. What proposal has he presented to the commission that would have passed with 5 commissioners instead of 7? And, if he hasn't taken any action to increase city revenues, how does the total number of commissioners affect that decision?

And who determined that the commission doesn't have a problem with "citizen outreach"? Has the commission done any polling on that issue?

As Jeff Smith said: “I see absolutely no benefit to the citizens of Sandusky by reducing the amount of commissioners.... 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.” Of course, Jeff is in his hardware store talking to residents every day. So what would he know about "citizen outreach"?

Nemesis

"How would that process have been expedited if the city had two fewer commissioners? What proposal has he presented to the commission that would have passed with 5 commissioners instead of 7? And, if he hasn't taken any action to increase city revenues, how does the total number of commissioners affect that decision?"

There you go, being all logical - that sort of rational, fact based approach doesn't apply; this is POLITICS!!!

Ralph J.

What if all five city commissioners came from affluent areas of the city? How would the rest of the people be represented? Who is representing the West end, Venice for example? People with money and name recognition usually win elections.

doppleganger

You have ALL brought up excellent points and I hope you repeat your message closer to election time. The only real "benefit" I can see is that the remaining 5 commissioners will get to split up the extra pay.

reader

Now where is it written a reduction in number means an increase in pay for those remaining?

That's a priority with the west side fire house closed as often as it's open...With 300 dead or dying city owned trees....With crumbling and pothole scarred streets....

Really???? Really????

doppleganger

This from a February 17, 2014 article in the Register:

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

Really.

YoMamma

Wrong they stated the pay of the two would be split with the five remaining

Darkhorse

The commissioners stated that the raises in their pay was not included in the legislation when cutting down the size of the commission. The commissioners like clean legislation so the legislation has a better chance of passing, smart move on their part.

Julie R.

These "new" commissioners sure are moving fast, aren't they? Within a few short months they fired the city manager Nicole Ard ...... hired an attorney to take her place .... and now are pushing to downsize the commissioners from 7 to 5.

I can't wait to see where this is all going.

Darkhorse

The commission is working first on removing the barriers that are in their way. Once those barriers are stripped way, it will be full speed ahead to get an all yes team in place.

SamAdams

Unfortunately, I believe you've hit the nail on the head...

T. A. Schwanger

###

The problem is not the physical number of commissioners sitting at the table, rather the lack of effective representation.

Nemesis

That lack can be perceived or real.

Nemesis

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

That's a gross mischaracterization, and the worst sort of disingenuous journalism. They are seeking to expand their power to act unilaterally without scrutiny or challenge, which constitutes an expansion of the scope and power of government.

Murray: "Five commissioners will enhance the commission’s ability to be cohesive and to get on the same page"

Sure, and do you know what would enhance it even further? Reducing it to ONE commissioner, who, barring multiple personality disorder, would ALWAYS be on the same page from the get go. Hence the efficiency of dictatorships.

The problem here is the false assumption that the faster they can reach consensus, the better that is. It's not. The entire reason the Founders set up a system with three co-equal branches, plus a bicameral legislature which now has 535 members (that's a lot more than 5 or even 7) is because the power of government should only be brought to bear via a slow, difficult, adversarially deliberative process. That's why our justice system involves a jury of 12 instead of one monarch unilaterally crying "off with his head!" Smart citizens want to MAXIMIZE the number of people an elected official must convince before he/she can enact policy.

DGMutley

Good post!