STOW — City voters will have a chance to weigh in this fall on whether they should have the authority to approve elected officials’ pay raises.
City Council on Thursday voted 5-1 to send an issue to the November ballot asking voters to change the charter to require voters to approve all pay raises for elected officials. It would also include a provision preventing Council from passing a pay cut for elected officials in the 75-day period after each municipal election in November.
Council Member Brian D’Antonio (At-Large) cast the dissenting vote, while Council Member Jim Costello (At Large) abstained.
The proposal was requested by both Council member Mike Rasor (At-Large) and Council President Matt Riehl (Ward 1).
Rasor previously said he felt it was a "conflict of interest" for Council to determine its own pay, and there are "potential biases involved in setting [the] pay of your colleagues who work in co-equal branches [such as mayor]."
"The voters are going to have 90 days to read this, understand it," added Council Member Brian Lowdermilk (Ward 3).
Costello, who is running for finance director this fall, said while the charter change would not affect anyone in the upcoming election, "it could be construed that whatever way I vote, it would be to my benefit. Therefore I will abstain [from voting on this]."
D’Antonio said he opposed the issue because of the message he felt it was sending.
"For seven and a half years, we’ve sat here and said people voted for those of us up here and it was OK that we made those decisions," said D’Antonio. "Now we’re saying those same people won’t vote for anyone else that was as honest as us, whatever the word is ... maybe if this was [proposed] in Year 1 of everybody’s possible eight-year term, it’d be a little different. It does stink of politics."
D’Antonio added he thought the issue was being "pushed" through and noted a charter review commission will convene next year to review potential ways to change the charter.
Riehl countered he felt having voters sign off on the pay raise "takes politics out of it."
"We’ve had members of Council who didn’t want to vote to increase their pay because they thought it would be political," said Riehl. "There’s some on this body — Rasor — who thinks it should be lowered and whenever that’s proposed, he’s called political for wanting to lower the pay."
Costello said he felt there was "no need to rush" the issue and added he felt the topic should be "discussed thoroughly" before being sent to the ballot. He noted he felt the charter review commission should review the issue and decide whether it should go to the ballot.
Rasor said each charter review commission member is "vetted by the politician that appoints them and they always produce pro-politician proposals."
Rasor turned to Costello and said he thought there was a "one out of a thousand chance" that the commission would propose the pay-raise amendment.
Riehl said the charter allows Council to propose charter amendments for voters to decide.
D’Antonio noted he and several other council members had been on the body for seven and a half years, and the issue was not previously discussed.
Council heard from residents both for and against the proposal.
Council reviewed a different version of the proposal on July 25, and then did a second reading of the issue on Wednesday night and then performed the third reading on Thursday.
"This proposed change to our charter ... has not had time for public comment, inspection and due consideration," said Pamela Wind. Noting that the charter review commission will meet next year, Wind urged council to hold the proposal until the commission "can approach it in the proper, open and considered way that our city deserves."
Carla Brown said she felt the charter would "do nothing to help Stow," and would "stifle progress."
Jeremy McIntire said he supported the charter amendment because it would help "avoid conflicts of interest" in the determination of pay raises. He added state legislators approved a pay raise for themselves that was tacked on to the end of a different piece of legislation at the end of 2018.
Mario Fiocca said he thought the charter proposal was "good for the residents" and gives citizens the chance to "assess the performance" of their elected officials.
In contrast, Melanie Merritt said she believe the charter change would "cripple our ability to attract and retain talent." She noted that city officials enact pay raises for employees by using information that the public is "not privy to." Merritt said she thought the issue should be researched to find out whether other cities had enacted a similar measure and what impact it had.
Council Member Sindi Harrison (Ward 2) said she had received feedback on both sides of the issue, but noted the proposed amendment is "going to the voters ... the voters can decide ... This is a way to hear the voice of everyone."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.