City voters must lead on charter

Published 12:58 am Sunday, June 30, 2013

Although it would still ultimately take a vote by Ironton’s citizens to eliminate mayoral term limits, the residents should be the ones who lead the effort of whether or not the charter change even gets placed on the November ballot.

City council gave first reading Thursday to an ordinance that would place on the ballot an amendment to the charter that abolishes the language that limits Ironton’s mayors to only serve two four-year terms, a move that would allow current Mayor Rich Blankenship to seek a third term in 2015.

Taking Blankenship completely out of the equation, both the proposed process for the change and the ramifications of that concept itself raise significant concerns that citizens should consider carefully.

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This amendment would fundamentally alter the city’s charter and potentially weaken some of the checks and balances that were put in place to promote good government that is held accountable. The first questions voters should ask are, “Who wants this and why?”

Until the citizens stand up to say they are the ones seeking this change, the council should not take a position on it at all as it breaks down the separation of powers between branches that were established in the charter.

Per the charter and the Ohio Constitution, council appears to have the ability to put this on the ballot. But an alternative is that charter changes can be initiated by a citizen-driven effort that collects signatures of 10 percent of the electorate.

Council should step aside and require this approach because it would allow citizens to be the ones leading the change rather than elected officials playing politics.

But what about the concept as a whole? It will need to be fully debated another day if the issue makes it onto the ballot the right way, but it merits consideration now.

It really comes down to one thing: Do we have a “good” mayor or a “bad” one? The measure of this change would vary based on who is in office at the time.

The change would allow citizens to keep in office an experienced individual who they feel has performed well and is the best choice to lead the city. It may also attract more qualified candidates to seek the job since the terms would no longer be so finite.

The downside of eliminating term limits comes from a “bad” — but very popular — mayor getting elected. Citizens could still work to recall that individual or elect someone else, but the lack of term limits greatly increases the potential for career politicians and abuse of power by someone who is entrenched in the office.

Overall, it is the citizens who should stand up to lead this process, from putting it on the ballot to approving or rejecting the change to electing their mayor.

That is how the charter was structured and democracy at its finest.