Why Should You Care?

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2005

Dozens of different government seats are being battled for next month, but not all positions are cut from the same cloth.

Each of these positions has not only unique responsibilities, but requires a special sort

of person to fill each of the seats.

Email newsletter signup

Township trustees

The township form of government in Ohio actually predates its state government, although its powers and use have changed considerably since its inception. Half of all the county's township trustees (two from each township) will be up for re-election on Nov. 8.

The care and maintenance of township roads is the top function of most of the state's townships. Keeping weeds trimmed and snow cleared are just a couple of the tasks in keeping township roads maintained.

Township trustees also have the ability to create fire departments, which they must also oversee, and may also employ police.

Also, townships often care for cemeteries and local parks, in addition to regulating zoning in their area.

Sue Robinson has been clerk of the Hamilton township trustees for more than 20 years, and she said the most important quality of a good trustee is how big a part of their community they are.

&#8221What makes a good trustee is just being involved with the township and wanting the roads done well, wanting the cemeteries to be presentable and just talking to the people,“ Robinson said.

Although new trustees will begin work in January, Robinson said they will not know how much of a commitment the job is until the warmer months.

&#8221Of course in summer it's more time-consuming than in the winter,“ Robinson said. &#8221In the summer you have all the grass growing, if you're paving any roads or anything, all that's going on then, cemetery upkeep. In the winter you don't have it like you do in the summer.&#8221

School boards

School boards hire a superintendent and a treasurer, provide funding for the district and assign a budget, and they set the schools policy, but that's just &#8221the short version“ said Scott Ebright, deputy director of communication services for the Ohio School Boards Association.

Although the first two duties are fairly self-explanatory, their role as policy-setters is slightly more intricate.

&#8221They adopt the policy that would give guidance to the administration on a certain issue,“ Ebright said, explaining that school boards have some flexibility on how tight of a leash they keep on administrators.

&#8221The policy just guides the school district on a particular action. It gives direction to school administrators on how to operate the school in very broad terms or very specific terms.“

Although that seems to assign the school boards a lot of power, Ebright said that their abilities are somewhat limited by how much of their funding is allotted to staffing.

&#8221There's not a lot of wiggle room,“ Ebright said. &#8221They have 10 to 15 percent of the budget in discretionary things they can do; run the buses, heat the buildings, field trips, supplies. They have some flexibility in some areas.“

Although Ebright said many school board members don't consider themselves to be politicians, that's not the case. Not only are they politicians, but they actually represent the state, even though they're elected locally.

School board members are paid for meetings they attend, but Ebright said that some school board members work anywhere from 15 to 40 hours a week on district business. That's why school boards aren't usually made up of parents of children in the district.

&#8221The beauty of the system is that the only requirements are that they live in the school districts and they can vote, so they come from all walks of life,“ Ebright said.

They may all have varied histories, but Ebright could point to one factor that makes a great school board member.

&#8221I think it's their willingness to serve,“ Ebright said. &#8221Board members need to be leaders; they need to listen well. I've never met a school board member or candidate who didn't believe that they wanted to make a positive impact on the school district. They may have a different idea of how they're going to go about that, however, the intent is to help the children in the district.“

City and village councils

According to the Ironton City Charter, &#8221all legislative power shall be vested in the Council.“ But long-time councilman Jim Tordiff said that there's quite a bit less power in that phrase than there was in the early 80s when the city went to a mayor form of government.

&#8221Council basically legislates and appropriates money, but a lot of times people think back to before we had the mayor government and thinks that council really has something to do with the daily operations of the city,“ Tordiff said.

Their lack of involvement in the day-to-day doesn't keep people from airing their grievances in the council chambers.

&#8221I guess the reality is that a council meeting is kind of a forum where people can come and vent their frustrations,“ Tordiff said. &#8221Even though that really should not be done, it's kind of been tradition for every council in the past 23 years to voice their concerns to council. Then we normally turn around and say ‘Mayor, can you take care of that?'“

In the end, the bulk of the city council's job, Tordiff said, comes down to watching the money.

&#8221One of the most important functions is to appropriate the budget, to identify if revenue needs to be increased or if services need to be cut, and to monitor the budget,“ Tordiff said. &#8221We need to ask ‘Are we living by it? Are we ahead of the game? Are we behind the game?'“

When times get tight, as Tordiff said that they are right now, the soon-to-be-former councilman hopes that future members of council will have the wisdom to know the right path, and the courage to follow it.

&#8221I think you have to be able to, for lack of a better word, be strong enough or responsible enough to make some really tough decisions, to sometimes do what needs to be done, even if it's not the popular thing,“ Tordiff said. &#8221That's at the top of my list of qualities, is to be able to see what's best for the city in terms of future growth and stability and to do some things that need to be done.“

Village councils have largely the same powers and responsibilities, though they get their guidelines for operation from the Ohio Revised Code rather than following a charter as in Ironton.

Six-year Chesapeake council member Joyce Stollings said that a good village council member has an open ear to their village residents.

&#8221People are always asking questions concerning the village, so you want somebody who knows a lot of people within the community,“ Stollings said. &#8221(Village residents) want people who will talk on their level. They don't want people who'll talk over their heads, they want someone who'll talk to them, someone who will talk with them.“

Local issues

Depending on the area tin which they live, voters will also have other issues on the ballot that affect their hometown - or township.

Voters in Ironton have three issues for their consideration. Two are city issues: a $10 municipal fee that would be assessed monthly, and a 1-mill floodwall levy based on property value that would cost taxpayers $1 per every $1,000 of a property's tax value. If that fee were to pass, it would remove the $3 monthly fee that Irontonians currently pay.

Also on the Ironton ballot will be a levy affecting local schools. The levy is 8.74 mils that would generate around $18 million. The cost to the average homeowner with property with an assessed value of $50,000 would be $133.83 annually, or $11.15 a month.

Those in Windsor Township will have a $1 million levy to consider to help fund its fire department.

State issues

All Ohio voters will have to decide on five ballot issues. The biggest will be a $2 billion bond package that would provide $1.35 billion for road, bridge, water and sewer projects; $150 million for preparing old industrial sites for new business and $500 million for Taft's Third Frontier project that centers on research, development and commercialization projects.

Also, there are state issues effecting elections in Ohio. One issue would change the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn throughout the state in efforts to eliminate either party from having a clear advantage. Another proposed issue would create a state elections board to oversee the process in Ohio.

The third would lower the individual limit on campaign contributions and the fourth would allow all voters the choice to vote by absentee ballot in all elections.

Justin McElroy is a reporter for The Ironton Tribune, he can be reached at justin.mcelroy@irontontribune.com.