The residents of Sunbury will get a chance to determine how they want to be governed on Election Day.
The reason for this is that Sunbury, which is currently designated as a village, is expected to become a city following the next U.S. Census in 2020. A city, according to Ohio law, is a municipality with a population of at least 5,000.
Voters can decide whether they want to adopt a charter, which is a plan of government. Last fall, Sunbury residents decided to form a Charter Commission for that purpose. From last December to June, a committee of residents met a couple times a month at the town hall, in consultation with a law firm, to work on the language of the charter.
“That proposed charter was mailed to all registered Sunbury voters for review in September 2019, and then will be voted upon in the November 2019 election,” states the village’s website.
The charter letter said the proposed plan “would retain much of (Sunbury’s) current governmental structure while also positioning (Sunbury) to accommodate future growth.”
Highlights of the 34-page charter include:
Article I: Name, boundaries and form of government — Sunbury will use its current “Mayor-Council-Administrator Plan.”
Article II: Powers — The letter states there is an increase of “the exercise of Sunbury’s home rule powers, particularly with respect to procedural and structural matters of its municipal government.”
Article III: Council — Sunbury will have seven at-large members serving four-year terms, along with a clerk. Council’s powers include levying taxes, and establishing utility and service rates.
Article IV: Legislative Procedure — “Action by the council shall be by ordinance, resolution, or motion,” reads the Charter. The ordinance and resolution is read on three separate days, unless at least five council members agree to dispense with the requirement. Majority vote is needed to approve any action.
Article V: Mayor — The mayor is the president of the council and presides over council meetings. Before, the mayor would only vote in case of a tie. If approved, the charter grants the mayor an equal vote.
Article VI: Administrator — Sunbury would retain “the primary administration of Sunbury’s government in the hands of an administrator who is appointed based on experience and fitness and who is directly accountable to the council,” the letter states.
Article VII: Administrative departments and personnel systems — Sunbury “shall have a Department of Law, a Department of Finance, a Police Department, and such other departments as the council may create,” the charter states.
Article VIII: Boards and commissions — At minimum, Sunbury will have a Planning and Zoning Commission, a Board of Zoning Appeals, and a Personnel Board of Appeals; each with at least three members.
Article IX: Finance, taxation and contracting — Council can establish competitive bidding procedures for contracts; which can be waived by at least five votes from council if it determines this is in the best interest of Sunbury.
Article X: Elections, recall, initiative and referendum — Voters may recall (remove) any elected official; as well as legislation adopted by council, except for special elections ordered by council.
Article XI: General provisions — Voters may amend or revise the charter.
Article XII: Charter Review Commission — Every 10 years or less, a seven-member commission shall review the charter and make changes to the language or duties as needed.
Article XIII: Transitional provisions — “Upon approval by a majority of the electors of the municipality voting thereon at the election held on Nov. 5, 2019, this charter shall take effect on Jan. 1, 2020,” the charter states.
Furthermore, the letter states the charter “provides that all municipal elections will proceed on a non-partisan basis. It assures that the voters retain the rights to directly propose laws by initiative, to directly repeal laws by referendum, and to directly remove incompetent or dishonest officials by recall. It endeavors to provide checks and balances to guard against any one department of the municipal government using its authority in an abusive manner.”
The letter concludes, “The members of the Charter Commission feel that Sunbury would be well-served by the adoption of this proposed charter, and they have unanimously recommended it for your approval.”
What happens if voters reject the charter?
“If the proposition to adopt such a plan is rejected by the electors of a municipal corporation, it shall not again be submitted in that municipal corporation within one year after such rejection,” states the Ohio Revised Code.
“Absent a charter, Sunbury would become subject to the default provisions of Ohio law that regulate city governance,” states the charter letter. “This would make fundamental changes to Sunbury’s current governmental structure that the commission feels would be expensive, unnecessary, and inefficient. By the adoption of this proposed charter, the village will avoid being subject to those default, statutory provisions.”
Also on the ballot for Sunbury residents, Mayor Tommy Hatfield and Councilman Timothy P. Gose are each running unopposed for full terms commencing Jan. 1, 2020.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.