City needs to implement charter government
To the editor:
A little over twelve years ago I moved to Salem. Like many, we moved back here to be closer to family. Although I was not from Salem, I had visited many times and was excited about moving to a smaller town. Still, when I got here I was warned by many that since I was not from Salem I would find it hard to be accepted. I found that not to be the case as I got involved in the community and eventually served nine of the past twelve years here on Salem City Council.
I grew up in a Cleveland suburb but have lived longer in Salem than in any one place in my life. I have come to have a heart for the city and the people here. I think it is cool that those who stayed or returned here after high school have such pride in the community and remain close-knit — that’s the way it should be. It is because I care about this town that I supported and still support the move to a charter government in Salem.
So what does it mean to be a charter government city? At some point in Salem’s history the town grew in population and the leaders way back when decided to be a city. In Ohio if you are a city then state law dictates the elected or management positions in your community.
However, about 100 years ago the Ohio State Legislature allowed cities and other government organizations (like counties) to create the structure of management and elected positions their citizens felt were right for their own community. Salem never did that. Right now Salem has the elected positions Columbus tells it is has to have and Salem has to follow certain government rules Columbus tells it to. Instead, Salem could create its own, more appropriate and more efficient form of management by creating and adopting a charter. Do we need an elected mayor, law director, auditor, treasurer, council president, four ward council persons, and three at-large council persons?
Since the Ohio State Legislature allowed cities to create their own charter, which defines the management of the city, more than 200 communities have done so. The ones we would be most familiar with are Columbiana, East Palestine and Canfield. Others like Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Pepper Pike, Upper Arlington and more created their own charters in the 50s and 60s or earlier.
I have earned my living for the past 25 or so years in business organization, planning and development consulting. I have seen many management structures in my time and after nine years on Salem City Council I can say with certainty that Salem could use a change in management structure. Some say if it isn’t broke, why fix it? I say you really don’t know if it is broke until you have worked inside the system and can compare it with other forms of management witnessed. Salem’s future is literally at stake – not because of where we are today (luckily good people are in place), but because of what we could face in the future if we don’t change now.
The first step is to vote in a Charter Commission of 15 citizens to write up a charter. Nothing changes until the charter is created and voters get the chance to review it and vote for it, or not. Salem has a rich history of citizen involvement and if you are interested in being a part of what could be a pivotal time in the history of your town, please contact Audrey Null at the Chamber of Commerce for more information on running for a position on the Charter Commission (330-337-3473).
Your city needs you. If you are not interested in serving on the Charter Commission, at least give everyone a chance to decide for themselves if a charter is right for Salem by voting for the creation of a commission in November – Salem citizens will not even get the chance to become a charter city unless the commission is formed and even then, they can turn down the opportunity the next year.
Many people know that I will be leaving Salem soon. I support the creation of a Charter Commission and a move to a charter government because I believe it is the right thing to do and the right thing for Salem. I will always consider Salem as my adopted hometown and want to see it thrive. Other than that I have no personal stake in the issue – I mention this because there are bloggers, commenters and those in some positions that do have veiled, vested interests and personal stakes and they will be detractors. I am working with the Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Affairs Committee to support this issue and in the coming weeks I hope to provide more information and encourage all to look into the charter process. And please, step forward if you find it constructive for your city.
Co-Chair, Legislative Affairs Committee, SACC
Former Salem Ward 1 Councilman