Sep
13

Last night’s city council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:

Greenspace Preservation – Last month, I told you about Sindi Harrison and my plan to rezone Fox Den Golf Course, from residential to Conservation.

That was Stage 1.

Last night, I unveiled Stage 2: A proposal to rezone hundreds more acres of greenspace, for the purpose of either (1) preserving its current use, or (2) eliminating the potential for development, whether it be retail or housing. That list includes: Roses Run Country Club (the golf course, not the Pambi Farms lots), Kent State Airport (without affecting KSU’s ability to run the flight school or airport), Marsh Road water reclamation facility, and about 100 acres of parcels in the northwest quadrant of Stow (south of Windham Ridge, northwest of the Hudson Drive Walmart).

Is there a current threat that these parcels will be developed? No. Not now. Possibly not ever. But if we wait for a threat, it will have been too late. While Roses Run is an operational golf course today, it would be foolish to ignore the national trend of courses closing down (especially ones with housing developments). While KSU intends to maintain an airport today, it’s easy to envision a new regime that someday decides to wait out the FAA restrictions and then sell to a housing developer for $15 million.

Think about it this way … People were really upset that Leisure Time closed down, and a housing development took its place. City Council wasn’t thrilled about it either. But the property was zoned residential, and that fact tied our hands. Or how about Fox Den Golf Course. Prior to 2006, it was privately owned. With the land being zoned residential, the owners of Fox Den were able to threaten a sale to developers and hold that over the city leaders’ heads: Poof, there went $5.5 million of your tax dollars.

This is a long play. And it’s not permanent. City leaders may someday think that light-industrial development is appropriate on Kent Road, in place of the airport. But at least they will have a decision to make.

It may sound dumb to do this when there is no threat of development. I’d say it’s dumber to wait until it’s too late.

Council voted 6-0 to pass these rezoning recommendations along to the Planning Commission, which will then study them and report back to council. The Planning Commission agreed with our recommendations concerning Fox Den, and there is a public hearing on that rezoning proposal, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall on Oct. 24.

City Center Committee – By a 6-0 vote, council amended the SKIP committee legislation, expanding the committee’s membership and its scope. Now, there will be 18 members, such that the Mayor will be able to appoint any of the existing committee members that he wishes. This new committee will examine and make recommendations concerning the entire City Center property, not just the playground. It will also be more transparent, with reporting duties and open meetings. We spent a lot of time putting together the structure of this committee. Part of me thinks the lengthy discussion was overkill, but the other part of me believes this committee, now that it’s formulated with the right expertise and constituencies, will be the City’s most important commission for the next two years–so we needed to do it right.

Next Meeting – Council will meet next on Sept. 26.

Aug
9

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:

Charter Amendment – This November, the voters will decide whether politicians can give themselves raises, or whether the raises must be approved by the people. Currently, the people have no say in the matter. It was a 5-1 vote to place the charter amendment before the voters. (D’Antonio voted “no,” Costello abstained.)

OK, now for some inside baseball: When you get a few steps into politics, you start to realize there are people who are taking up seats in order to get a check. There are also people who are there to serve. Start talking about a politician’s pay, and you start to see the divide. (Pay close attention to what the candidates this fall think about the charter amendment.) I’m not talking strictly about local government. Congress is looking at giving itself a raise. Ohio’s legislature gave itself a raise last winter.

There’s usually a lurking majority of politicians who think they deserve more of the people’s money. And they’re good at getting their way. The state legislature tied its raise to a piece of must-pass legislation concerning first-responder benefits. How vile. This charter amendment is a guardrail against self-serving behavior.

Anyhow, for most of us, our bosses, not our peers, determine our pay. If a CPA wants a raise, she doesn’t ask her fellow staff accountant; she asks the managing partner. We are making government more like private business.

Please spare me the baloney about waiting until we see if the charter-review commission would propose this. The charter review commission is an unelected body that has done nothing but propose pro-politician measures. They’re vetted in advance to match the mayor’s perspectives. They have never touched anything that would hold politicians accountable. Why would council wait for something that will never come? Why would council rely on unelected people to recommend what council knows it should do? It’s a disingenuous argument.

Please also don’t talk about this proposal not affecting the people who are currently running. It will take effect immediately–before the newly elected officials even take office. I challenge the next council to give pay raises without presenting them to the people (assuming the charter amendment is adopted). Just give it a whirl.

Perhaps the most poignant comment was from Matt Riehl, who said this proposal takes politics out of politician pay. That’s exactly right. I envision a situation where the city studies the proper pay levels for its elected officials, they present the findings to the people, and they offer the raises for the voters’ consideration. The voters aren’t dumb; they recognize raises may be appropriate some day, but they must be justified with unbiased data.

We had a lot of Chicken Littles last night, telling us the sky was falling. The same thing happened two years ago, when I sought to eliminate primary elections. “Oh my gosh, we are going to have 10 candidates for mayor, and an auditorium full of council candidates!!!!” … Let’s see how that played out. Wednesday was the city-election filing deadline, in an election that will sweep 8 of 10 elected officials out, because of term limits. It was supposed to be Doomsday. As it turns out, Chicken Littles were wrong. The City of Stow taxpayers would have paid $35,000 for a primary election for 2 offices (Ward 2 and law director). What a terrible waste of money, just to narrow those two races. Chicken Littles will be wrong on this proposal, too.

At the end of the day, if you hate this proposal so much, go out and campaign against it. Try convincing your neighbor, who works really hard for her salary, that you think politicians in Stow should be able to give themselves raises. Good. Luck.

SKiP Committee – For 12 months, city council’s agenda included a proposal to create a committee to plan a new SKiP playground. Last month, we finally adopted the legislation, forming the committee. Then we found out there was already a SKiP committee. … I expect, as a city councilman, to be kept informed about what’s going on with the city–particularly with regard to topics that council is working on. Somehow, that didn’t happen. So now we have two committees tasked with the same work, comprised of different people. One commissioned by the mayor; one by legislation adopted by council and signed into law by the mayor. Only in government.

Next month, I’m going to propose an amendment to the committee legislation that accomplishes the following: (1) expanding the official committee, so that the pre-existing committee is invited to join, (2) expanding the scope of the committee’s duties, to encompass the entire city center project, but allowing subcommittees for specific components of the project, (3) requiring the committee to follow open-meeting laws, and (4) requiring the committee to make regular reports to council.

This should solve the confusion and ensure the body acts with transparency to the people.

Next meeting – Council will meet next on Sept. 12.

Meeting Notes

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