Fairborn Charter Amendments Create Controversy

May 2, 2011

American politics have been volatile in the last year. We've seen rallies against new collective bargaining laws and tea party groups organizing against what they call big spending government. This is also playing out at the local level. In Fairborn, for example, citizens will vote on seven new amendments to the city's charter tomorrow. Those proposed changes have caused a controversy with some of Fairborn's residents.

In late January, the Fairborn city council held a special session to pass seven emergency ordinances to go on the May ballot. The ones that are getting the most attention are changes to extend the term limits of the mayor and council members and one that will make firing a city manager harder. It would require a super majority vote from the city council, rather than a simple majority. Angil Corey, the chairman of the political action group Citizens For Fairborn's Future, thinks people should pay special attention to this.

"We have a group of individuals who have been predominant in Fairborn politics for the last twenty years. This is the system that was worked for them and citizens are tired of it," says Corry. She adds she gets at least 30 calls a week from Fairborn voters who are concerned with the direction of the city, "Citizens have woken up in Fairborn. They're becoming a lot more outraged, a lot more involved and are paying closer attention."

What really bugs Corey and others who are skeptical of the amendments is the way they made it to the ballot. Because they were voted in as emergency ordinances, there was no opportunity for public comment.

Frank Cervone, who serves on the Fairborn City Council, wonder why the issues were so important that they had to get on the ballot in this manner.

"We have bigger issues going on in this city. Financial, trash, we need more growth. You know, there's more issues than this. So it really raised some serious flags with me.," says Cervone.

But Dave Lower was on the commission that recommended the amendments to the council. Lower says the amendments were long overdue. They hadn't been reviewed in year. Like the issue of the supermajority needed to fire a city manager.

"When you get to a situation as important, as significant, as removing somebody from the top office, it's more serious than the simple majority. What we do on the national scene on vetoes? You don't get that done on a simple majority," says Lower.

The mayor of Fairborn is Joan Dautel. She's thinks the amendments are good for the city, but she understands why some citizens are upset.

"Citizens don't have an impact in Washington and Columbus, but they can vote no down here on the local levies," says Dautel.

Dautel says the voters will ultimately decide what amendments will pass, but she finds it frustrating that Citizens For Fairborn's Future and others are encouraging people to vote no on all seven amendments.

"What would you have against saying that a person needs to go off council for a felony? Our charter says the only way a person comes off city council is if they're unexcused for three meetings in a row. So if you get somebody that ends up in jail for some reason and if you have cronies on council who continue to excuse them, that person can be sitting in jail and still getting paid for being a council person. They don't understand that," says Dautel.

Dautel agrees that the charter amendments were not emergencies. But they needed to pass quickly in order to get on the May ballot.

Angil Corry with the citizens group doesn't buy that. She says the charter recommendations were ready for review months before that special January session, "if they were ready in December, why did we wait throughout December and throughout January when just the previous Monday we had a council meeting?"

Dr. Rob Baker is a political science professor at Wittenberg University who studies local politics and has reviewed all the Fairborn amendments. He says most of them are pretty typical. Baker says while everything was done legally, the one about removing the city manager with a super majority vote is less common. Also, he says the timing of the amendments was odd.

"And the fact that at least at the council meeting wasn't very much opportunity, or no opportunity for citizen questioning about the emergency ordinances, so those are the things that folks should consider I guess when they're looking at what happened in Fairborn," says Baker.

Baker says being an informed voter is harder at the local level. It means knowing your city's charter and asking questions of city officials. Fairborn voters will make their choice Tuesday.