Shrinking city government

Plan to reduce commission from seven to five considered
Andy Ouriel
Apr 21, 2014


The  effort to shrink Sandusky’s government starts soon.

Come April 28 at a public meeting, Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. plans to introduce legislation to reduce the number of elected commissioners from seven to five. The ex officio mayor is one of seven commissioners.
Before it can happen, however, these triggers must get pulled:

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

•Residents, during an election, would determine whether they want five or seven commissioners. A citywide vote could be scheduled as soon as November.

Hypothetically, if approved, the soonest a reduction could happen would be in fall 2015, when four of seven city commission seats are up for election for terms set to start in January 2016.    

“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”

The commissioners up for election come fall 2015: Jeff Smith, Wes Poole and Scott Schell, who now serves in Keith Grohe’s seat. Grohe resigned from office earlier this year, citing health problems.

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

Murray, and commissioners Dick Brady and Naomi Twine, just won a four-year term 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, 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.

Commissioners’ take on 5 vs. 7

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

Here are the responses:

“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

“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 fewer people”

— Julie Farrar

“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

“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

“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

“Ultimately, the decision to reduce commission from seven to five would be in the hands of the voters. All we can do as commissioners is vote to place the initiative on the ballot. I would not be opposed to placing this initiative on the ballot”

— Scott Schell

“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


JT Adams St

If passed, 3 people who were part of a clique, like the Murray/Brady clique plus one (or the Murray/Stahl clique of days gone by) could make all of the decisions for the city. This wouldn't be so bad if the commissioners were elected from wards. But they aren't. Instead, they could all be from a single block of the Chaussee. If the voters go that route, we should at least change the name of the body from "commission" to something more appropriate, like "junta."

T. A. Schwanger



What say the Committee for Increasing the Admissions Tax circulate a petition to go to a 4 ward commission?

Julie R.

If Sandusky ~ the largest city in Erie County ~ went from a population of 33,000 in 1970 to the current estimate of approximately 25,000 today, why did the county need 2 judges & 3 magistrates to replace the former judge Anne Maschari?


More people turned criminals?

Licorice Schtick

They should get rid of term limits, too. By the time these people learn the ropes, they're out. I would like the option of keeping the good ones.

T. A. Schwanger


The problem with commission is not the number sitting at the table.

As JT Adams speaks above, the problem is with representation, or lack thereof.

A better suggestion from Murray and Brady (they led the campaign to reduce the number on commission) would be keep the number at 7 with 4 elected by ward (area) and 3 elected at-large (elected by all).

While the IMA and NAACP's effort to solicit the City Commission to rehire fired City Manager Ard may be in vein, the two groups should join forces to combat the effort to reduce the number of commissioners and any attempt by Murray and Brady to eliminate term limits.

If term limits are good enough for the State Legislators, it's good enough for Sandusky.

Forward Looking

So, let me get this straight. Reduce the commission to save money, but Mr. Poole says divide the savings of the 2 less commissioners among the remaining 5. What is the purpose of the reduction? I agree with Mr. Smith.

This could go to a vote and if the Register doesn't get a news worthy result, then they will attack the vote til it goes to vote again and is reversed. Remember the last time we voted for something to happen in 2008 and did it ever happen? The Register got that reversed through scandal.

Ralph J.

Replace the letters HR in the word SHRINKING with the letter T.