Educate Voters On City Charter

Members of a special commission formed to recommend revisions to Steubenville’s city charter have completed their work. Now the ball is in City Council’s court. It will prepare a proposal to be decided on by voters.

First on council’s agenda should be thanking members of the Charter Review Commission. Its nine members spent eight months looking at the charter, listening to comments from the public and municipal officials, and drawing up a list of 13 recommendations. Commission members deserve the community’s thanks.

An outline of the 13 suggestions fits neatly onto a single sheet of paper. Yet some have enormous ramifications for Steubenville’s future.

Some amount only to cleaning up loose ends and providing safeguards, the need for which was made apparent since the charter was reviewed last in 1992. For example, the commission recommends a charter change that would allow removal of any council member or mayor who misses four consecutive regular meetings of council for reasons other than health.

Other items may be more controversial. Fourth on the list of suggestions is salary increases for the mayor and council members, in exchange for eliminating health insurance benefits. Another provision calls for eliminating the charter section that has the mayor serving as acting city manager when a vacancy occurs in that position.

The panel’s recommendations were drawn up independently, without direct involvement by the mayor or members of council. That is apparent from one suggestion, that mayors and council members be limited to no more than two consecutive terms.

Many of the review commission’s proposals appear to involve no more than fine-tuning the mechanics of city government. But even those, such as one allowing a police chief to be hired from outside the police department, may have far-ranging implications.

It is expected voters will see the proposals on their ballots in the election this November. That gives them time to educate themselves on just what the proposals mean – and whether they appear to be desirable or not.

To educate voters, council should ask review commission members for one final service to the community. They and city officials should schedule a series of public meetings to explain the recommendations and answer questions about them, with the goal of ensuring votes on the matter are informed ones.