REVIEWING GOVERNING: Most candidates support giving voters choices
(EDITOR’S NOTE: City voters will be asked this fall if they want a study done on the city’s form of government, and if they want to study the potential for home rule. The Sun-Gazette takes a closer look this week at the ballot questions in a special four-part series that continues today.)
By MARK MARONEY
early every one of the seven candidates running for City Council in the fall election are supportive of allowing voters to make choices, but each has a slightly different opinion about what they want to see transpire.
Derek Slaughter, a Democrat, said he is concerned that loading up voters minds can backfire.
“It is hard to know what is going to happen with the two ballot measures,” he said.
Slaughter said he leans toward evaluating what the city is doing.
“I believe it is always a good idea to evaluate what we are doing, whether it be personally, professionally or politically, to see if the current structure is the most effective, or to determine if there is a more efficient way,” Slaughter said.
He said he also is supportive of the means council took to get the ballot question before voters.
“The ballot measure formulated by council was the correct way to get the process accomplished and is a means of starting a legitimate study to see whether a city manager form of government would be more effective for the city,” Slaughter said.
He said it requires strong analysis, discipline and oversight, which would allow the city to run even more efficiently.
Matilda Noviello, another Democratic candidate, said getting the opportunity before the voters to study home rule is a “cornerstone” of her campaign.
“It would logically follow for me to have a strong desire to take part in a historic and exciting exploration of this form of government,” she said.
Noviello said she views less government intrusion in decisions affecting the voters as a fruitful opportunity to engage with fellow taxpayers.
“I believe this is the best means of determining the best possible course of action for the city’s future,” she said.
Councilman Clifford “Skip” Smith, a Republican seeking re-election, said the decision by council to put the referendum question up for a vote did not happen overnight but rather took several months of researching the best way forward.
Smith was one of the council members who voted in favor of the referendum for a charter commission question to be put on the ballot. The only “no” vote was from Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, who is not a candidate this year.
Smith said each “scenario was gone over thoroughly” before he cast his vote and before the council leadership prepared the ordinance for review.
“Council has adopted what he believes to be the best direction forward,” he said.
Smith favored allowing the electorate to make the choice.
Councilwoman Liz Miele, a Democrat seeking re-election, said she favors the charter commission referendum question and hopes it will draw more voters out in November than the 20 percent who cast ballots at the polls in the spring primary.
“It is a process that will involve more of the electorate on an off-presidential year,” Miele said.
She described the process as a form of democracy that registered voters don’t always get to take part in and said it was “wonderful to see the potential for increasing voter turnout.”
Miele added that she only wants the best course of action for the city and, as her fellow members of council said, whatever voters decide is the way it should be because that is the law and that is the means in which people have the right to choose who they want to be leading them.
“Overall, I think it’s healthy to explore ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government,” said Steve Shope, a Republican candidate.
“If one or both of the commissions are given mandates by the voters this November, it would allow for an opportunity to vet these other options,” he said.
“My concern, and a concern that all voters should have, is that folks will run for these commissioner seats with predetermined agendas rather than looking at each option objectively and without political influence,” he said.
Bill Hall, running as independent for council, said: “Our local form of government mirrors that of the U.S. Constitution, having an executive branch (mayor), legislative branch (City Council), and a judicial branch made up of our magistrates and Commonwealth Court.”
Since 1972, the city has had 10 mayors and dozens of people on council, Hall said.
“There are those who say we have had dysfunctional mayors and there are those who say we have had dysfunctional councils,” he said.
Hall said the electorate needs to look at the record of stores, hotels, two parking decks, three bridges, attractions and residential developments.
“Our system of government works,” he said, adding that rather than spending taxpayer dollars to set up commissions and boards to study the existing form of government, the city should be focusing money and brainpower on reinvigorating the city east of Market Street, finding short- and- long-term funding solutions to the levee issue and getting the Grafius Run problem solved quickly, once and for all.
Randall J. Allison, a Republican seeking re-election, was one of the two council leaders with Council President Jonathan Williamson, who introduced the ordinance for a vote. He supports giving the electorate the opportunity and said he does not support any one means of government but believes the time is right to bring it forward in the political election cycle.
If voters decide on either referendum or both, the commissions formed have several months to hold meetings and town halls to explain their review processes and receive input from citizens, Allison said.
If it goes the other way, where the voters turn down the referendums, then the mayor has time to prepare another campaign, and the candidates who would challenge him have sufficient time to begin to raise their funds and run their campaigns for the 2019 vote, he said.