Tension grows at City Council
By Matt Echelberry
The official draft of the amendment to the City Charter was presented at Galion City Council’s meeting on July 24. It was standing room only that evening, and when the amendment was discussed, the tension that has been building for months in regards to the change came to a tipping point, showing the divide between citizens–and council members.
The Charter Abolishment Petition, as it was named in the meeting agenda, abolishes the current City Charter and replaces Galion’s system of government with “the general statutory plan for municipal corporations under the Ohio Revised Code.” It came before Council during its meeting for approval to be put on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election. If passed, a transition period will take effect in which the current city officers and office holders will continue their duties. Another election would be held the following May in order to elect new officials.
However, Council member Cathy George moved to table the legislation because she said it contradicts the Ohio Constitution. In the language of the draft, it called for the newly-elected mayor, law director and auditor to serve initial terms of four years and seven months. According to George, the Constitution states that those officials may not hold office for a term of more than four years. She was strongly opposed to the abolishment and very vocal about her feelings.
Law Director Reese Mills explained that Council only had limited review in that situation. It could not reject the legislation on the basis of content, only the form in which it was written. “In this case, Council serves an administrative duty. It does not determine whether it’s legal or illegal.”
George’s motion to table died for lack of a second, so Council then discussed the legislation itself. Council member Roberta Wade revised some of the legislation, adding a new section that specified an initial term of two years for the newly elected treasurer. She said it would stagger the terms of the treasurer and auditor.
Before the vote was taken, Council President Gail Baldinger said, “My yes vote for this is only to comply with the Ohio Constitution. I am not in favor of this.” Several other council members voiced their opinions as well. George said, “I love this community and I’d hate to see it go backwards. We’ve come so far.”
Dr. Tom Fellner called the legislation “democracy in action.” He supported the citizens of Galion being able to decide how they should be governed. “However, if this is a personal vendetta against our current city manager, then I am 100 percent in agreement with Cathy that this is completely wrong. But it’s gonna be up to the people and I hope the election has a good turnout.” Paul Flannery stated, “I’ve lived in this city for 70 years. For the last 25 years we’ve had a city manager and for the last 25 years we have went downhill.”
Baldinger then allowed citizens to offer comments about the legislation. Gina Powell said that the abolishment effort had nothing to do with City Manager Gene Toy. “You would have to be living under a rock to not see what’s going on in this town, the empty houses for rent or for sale. And I appreciate Roberta Wade for standing up for what we believe. You’re the only one who has.”
Shirley Clark agreed with Powell. “I think Gene Toy has done a wonderful job with what he got thrown into…I think the people of Galion have a right to decide. This is definitely not a vendetta against Gene or anybody,” she said.
Don Faulds clarified that the legislation would only put the amendment on the ballot. If it passes, then there will be a special election for city officials. Interested individuals would step forward to have their names put on the ballot. “Those qualified people will step up once this gets passed. I think you’d be surprised how many people are interested in holding these positions.”
Council passed the revised legislation 5–1 so that it could be submitted to the Board of Elections to be put on the ballot. George was the only member to vote “no” for it and Council member Walter Keib was absent. Several citizens in the room applauded after the vote.