What Is a Charter?

In basic terms, a charter functions as a local constitution. It spells out the structure, function, and procedures of local government. In other words, a charter specifies how a municipality (city or village) is to be run. A group of citizens is elected to form a charter commission. The commission then develops the proposed charter. Commission members work together to draft the document that will then be put before the voters of the municipality.

Developing a charter is truly grassroots democracy, where those most directly affected decide how their local government operates.

If the voters like what the commission comes up with, they can vote to adopt the charter. If not, they can opt to reject it.

Charters can address many different issues:
  • Form of government
  • Powers granted to elected and/or appointed officials
  • Legislative procedures (e.g. how ordinances are enacted and published)
  • Process for initiative, referendum, and recall of elected officials
  • Contracting and bidding
  • Taxation and debt
  • Boards and commissions

A charter can include a provision for regular reviews to ensure it is still relevant and continues to meet the needs of residents. The same certainly cannot be said for the state constitution.

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What Does MP Have Now?

Minerva Park is a non-chartered village, which means we are subject to state statutes.  The state constitution grants municipalities the right to limited home rule authority.  This allows some freedom to decide certain “substantive” local matters, but non-chartered municipalities are limited in many ways by the laws set by the Ohio Legislature. MP has an elected mayor and six elected (or appointed) council members. The mayor has administrative authority and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Village. Council occupies an advisory and legislative role with no supervisory or reporting relationship to Village employees.

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What Is “Home Rule Authority”?

Home rule authority is another way of saying that a municipality has the right to local self-government, or the ability to run its own affairs within limits. The state grants home rule authority to both non-charter and chartered cities and villages. Municipalities without charters, however, are subject to more limitations. Chartered cities and villages have greater freedom to manage their own affairs at the local level.

How does this work? Here are a couple of basic examples:
  • Home rule authority grants Minerva Park the right to decide whether the mayor’s position is part time or full time.
  • Council has the right to designate the local newsletter as its “newspaper of record.”

These issues are strictly matters of local self-government that have no impact beyond MP.

Because Minerva Park does not have a charter, its ability to self-govern is limited.

Here are some examples:
  • MP must follow one of the statutory plans of government allowed by the state constitution. Essentially, this means that the village government is working under rules created decades ago by legislators who have no interest in or knowledge of what’s best for MP.
  • For bidding large projects, the Village must follow procedural requirements specified by state law, which can limit MP’s ability to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances.

Finally, if disputes arise related to the exercise of home rule authority, including disagreements with neighboring municipalities, the courts look more favorably on municipalities that have a charter.

What might these disputes look like? It’s impossible to say with certainty. No one can know if or when these types of disputes may arise.

Here are some hypothetical situations to illustrate the point:
  • Imagine that MP implements a solution to prevent the influx of trash and debris flowing down the ravine and into the lake. Now imagine that neighboring municipalities find this solution objectionable. This could turn into a dispute related to home rule authority.
  • Consider a scenario where the Village fixes its storm and sanitary sewers and decides to rebuild its streets as part of the process. Perhaps it might make sense to impose stricter weight limits on vehicles in order to reduce wear and tear on the infrastructure. This is a matter of home rule authority, but what if others outside MP don’t like these restrictions and decide to sue?

A charter solidifies a municipality’s home rule authority, its right to manage its own affairs. According to the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio State Bar Association, the courts have a more favorable view of cities and villages with charters; while this doesn’t guarantee a favorable outcome, it certainly helps.

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Why Is a Charter Good for MP?

First, there are legal advantages to having charter. The FAQ on home rule authority elaborates on this. As MP and the surrounding areas continue to grow and change, our relationships are likely to become more complex, with issues ranging from economic development opportunities to service agreements. Having a charter in place now may prove beneficial should problems arise in the future.

Second, with a charter, residents define the structure and function of their government. Minerva Park voters determine how the Village is managed for the future.

Third, through a charter the Village can establish a government structure and procedures that are more flexible, responsive, and accountable.

Who knows best how to meet the needs of Minerva Park, its citizens or politicians at the Statehouse?

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What Is the Charter Timeline?

November 2018: Minerva Park voters will decide whether to proceed with forming a charter commission and, if so, elect its members. If the majority votes in favor of forming a charter commission, the group will have until next fall to draft a charter for the Village.

October 2019: All residents of the Village will have mailed to them a copy of the proposed charter. This must be done at least thirty days before the general election.

November 2019: Voters will decide whether to approve the proposed charter.

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How Does the Charter Commission Work?

The charter commission consists of up to fifteen electors of the Village. If fewer than fifteen individuals run for the commission, the commission can appoint additional members. A minimum of eight members (enough to have a quorum) is necessary to get started. MP has thirteen candidates on the ballot.

The commission has some flexibility in how it approaches the work to be done. For example, the commission could break into smaller work groups to tackle specific sections of the charter. This may make the process more efficient.

There are resources available through the Ohio Municipal League, and the Village solicitor is also able to provide legal counsel. In addition, it is recommended that the commission bring in individuals from other charter municipalities for advice.

Members of the commission may disagree on certain points. Compromise may be necessary, and if significant disputes arise, the majority opinion will stand. All commission meetings must follow the requirements of Ohio’s Sunshine Laws in regards to open meetings and public records. Input from residents is welcome and necessary for a successful effort.

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Will the Charter Radically Change MP’s Government?

The short answer: it depends on what the charter commission proposes.

A charter is an opportunity to look at MP’s current government structure and processes and decide if there are better ways to handle the Village’s affairs.

The charter commission will need to consider:

  • How should the government be structured?
  • What powers and responsibilities will elected and/or appointed officials have?
  • Should the procedures for passing legislation be different?
  • Should the process for initiative, referendum, and recall be different for MP?
  • How should the Village handle contracting and bidding?
  • Are changes to taxation and debt limits in the best interest of the Village?
  • Would the Village benefit from new or restructured boards and commissions, such as a Parks & Recreation board to manage green space and the pool?

The charter commission may decide that what’s written in state statute is fine. Or, it may propose changes that better fit the needs of Minerva Park.

For matters not addressed specifically by the charter, state statute will apply. For example, if the charter commission decides not to include language about the bidding on big projects, then the Village will continue to follow the process outlined in state law.

Having state statute as a “fallback” alleviates some risk and has the potential to streamline the process, allowing the charter commission to focus on the areas they feel are most important.

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What Are “Forms of Government”?

One of the benefits of a charter is that it allows for flexibility in how the government is structured. State statute specifies elected officials’ roles and responsibilities; however, these laws may be unclear, outdated, or prone to inefficiencies.

The charter commission’s job will be to consider the needs of the community and propose a form of government that will work best for the Village and its residents.

Forms of government common to Ohio municipalities include:

Mayor-Council

  • MP’s current structure
  • The number of council members could increase or decrease
  • Different powers or responsibilities could be granted to the mayor or council members, including veto power for the mayor

Council-Manager

  • An appointed (hired) manager who would report to Council
  • Enables the Village to specify the qualifications and experience required for the job
  • Duties, powers, and responsibilities would be specified in the charter
  • President of council often serves as a ceremonial mayor

Commission

  • Rarely used by municipalities in Ohio
  • May or may not have a manager who would report to the Commission
  • Commission members tend to have greater responsibility for managing day-to-day operations
  • Duties, powers, and responsibilities would be specified in the charter

Mayor-Council-Administrator/Manager

  • A combination of previously described forms
  • An appointed (hired) manager who would report to either Council or the Mayor
  • Enables the Village to specify the qualifications and experience required for the job
  • Mayor may or may not have veto power
  • Duties, powers, and responsibilities would be specified in the charter

Municipalities across the state offer examples of these basic forms of government. The charter commission should consider these examples and modify as needed to suit MP’s needs.

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What About the Mayor?

The position of mayor may change, or it may remain largely the same. This depends on what the charter commission proposes.

The vote on the proposed charter would align with the next mayoral election in November 2019. Therefore, the charter should specify a transition plan that addresses this issue. For example, some charters have elected officials complete their terms to allow enough time for the transition. Other charters specify a shorter timeframe.

It is possible that the charter commission will recommend keeping the current form of government. In that case, the transition will be simple, although powers and responsibilities may change. Or, the commission may suggest making the mayor’s role purely ceremonial, held by an elected member of council. This pressing issue should be resolved by the commission fairly early in the process so that potential mayoral candidates have an idea of what may lie ahead.

It is also important to consider what a charter may offer in terms of the mayor’s responsibilities. Under state statute, the mayor is essentially the chief executive of the Village. In other words, the mayor is responsible for running the day-to-day operations, supervising staff, executing and managing projects. Council functions in a legislative and advisory capacity.

Currently, the only requirements to run for mayor are as follows: 1) be an elector of the Village 2) for one year and 3) run for office. There are no specifications regarding experience or professional qualifications.

With annual general fund appropriations of nearly $2 million and millions more in property tax revenue on the horizon, who should oversee the Village’s operations? What kind of experience or expertise should that person have?

Historically, the number of mayoral candidates has been small, with several recent elections having one unopposed candidate. There is little reason to think this trend will change, but is this the best way to manage the Village’s affairs?

There are several questions for the charter commission to consider. For example:

  • In looking to the future, with a significantly larger population, increased tax revenue, and several large, complex projects to manage, would Minerva Park and its residents be better served with a different approach?
  • Do other options, such as a manager, offer enough value for the potential cost?
  • Qualifications, such as project management, supervisory, or grant-writing experience could be required. Would having a professional who is accountable to elected officials offer the best value for taxpayers’ dollars?
  • Should the mayor’s role remain largely intact? Should the mayor’s powers be expanded? Should the mayor be able to vote on all legislation or have veto power?
  • What provisions will be in place should the mayor (or manager, as the case may be) does not perform adequately?

As voters, it is up to us to decide if the status quo is best or if change is worth the risk.

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Will MP Still Have a Council?

Almost certainly, yes. However, the charter commission could propose changes. There are a number of items for the commission to consider, including:

  • Increase or decrease the number of council members
  • Grant additional powers to council members or restrict their authority
  • Establish qualifications, including whether members can hold elected or appointed office elsewhere
  • Implement a ward system or keep members at large
  • Define the roles of President of Council, President Pro Tempore, etc.
  • Determine parameters such as length of terms, cause for removal from office, meeting requirements, committees, etc.

The charter commission could propose a commission form of government, but this would be very unlikely as it does not make much sense for MP.

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What if We Don’t Like the Charter?

Charter commission meetings are open to the public, so residents can watch the process unfold. In addition, the commission should consider residents’ concerns and ideas as they proceed.

Prior to voting on the charter, residents will have ample time to review the document, ask questions, and arrive at their own conclusions.

It is important to understand a few key principles:
  • A charter cannot expand police powers or override certain parts of state statute (in other words, the charter cannot set up a totalitarian regime in the Village).
  • There are many well-written charters to use as a starting point. The charter commission will not be drafting this document from scratch. Other functional, prosperous communities have models that MP can adapt.
  • The charter does not have to address every possible issue. It can be limited in scope, knowing that, for anything not covered in the charter, state statute stands.

In the end, voters will decide whether to adopt the proposed charter. The direction this community takes rests in the hands of its citizens.

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Can a Charter Be Changed Later?

Yes, the charter can be amended, and far more easily and efficiently than state statute can.

Most charters specify a periodic review (every five or ten years, for example). This is an opportunity to amend sections that are no longer appropriate given changing circumstances.

Citizens can also initiate charter amendments as they see fit and according to processes spelled out in the charter or state statute.

Charter amendments are voted on by residents. In fact, several communities in Franklin county have charter amendments on the ballot this November.

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Will the Current Mayor and Council Be Involved?

In short, not much.

Certainly, as residents of the Village, anyone—elected officials included—can attend commission meetings and offer feedback, share opinions, and so on.

However, none of MP’s current elected officials are running for seats on the charter commission, so none of them will have any decision-making role in the drafting process.

It is expected, though, that the administration and council will provide support as needed. This may include supplying documents, enabling the commission to meet in the Community Building, allocating funds to cover legal costs, etc.

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Why Now?

Over the last couple of years, citizens have been vocal about wanting to be involved in the direction MP is going. Residents have clamored for change. This is a chance to put that energy into action.

A charter allows us to examine and update our systems in order to have a more efficient and responsive government. It is a chance to implement changes to benefit residents and the community now and in the future.

The timing is right. The 2018 election should have brisk voter turnout, and going through this process now will avoid the need for costly special elections.

Plus, there are residents who are willing to spearhead this effort now. Change like this only happens when there are folks willing to take the lead and make it happen.

Finally, why wait to gain stronger legal standing? It’s like car insurance: you don’t know when you’ll need it, but buying a policy after the accident isn’t particularly helpful.

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What Other Municipalities Have Charters?

The majority of cities in Ohio have charters. For villages, charters are less common. The Ohio Municipal League provides a list of chartered municipalities.

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What’s This Going to Cost?

It is difficult to say precisely. Much of the cost will depend on how much the Village’s legal counsel is involved. There are some ways the charter commission can keep costs in check:

  • Draw from existing charters that have already stood the test of time. These documents have been reviewed and vetted already, so using them can save money. 
  • Establish efficient work processes and limit communications to the Village solicitor. Consolidating efforts, conducting independent research, and avoiding one-off emails to counsel saves money.

There’s no doubt about it, developing a charter will be an expense for the Village. Is that cost worth it, compared to the inefficient use of tax dollars, diminished legal standing, or outdated systems and processes?

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What Will Be on the Ballot in 2018?

Voters will answer YES or NO to the following question:

Shall a commission be chosen to frame a charter?

If the majority votes “YES,” the commission will move forward with the elected members.

If the majority votes “NO,” the commission will not move forward, and any votes cast for the commission members will be disregarded.

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Who Is Running for the Charter Commission?

Who Is Running for the Charter Commission?
  • Jeanne Shelley Beeba
  • Paul R. Braskett
  • Richard C. Busick
  • Rani Conger
  • Jennifer Estes
  • Evan Harker
  • Nina Lewis
  • Pamela Park-Curry
  • Kelly C. Parks
  • Jeffrey Smutny
  • Sidney A. Townsend
  • Debra Walsh
  • Brian Wolf
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