Stow -- The city is taking another step toward reducing paper usage, as well as increasing transparency.
On May 23, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance creating a new chapter, titled "Transparency and Green Savings," within the city's codified ordinances.
Council, however, also rejected an accompanying ordinance by a 4 to 3 vote that would have mandated specific reductions in paper usage over five years.
The approved ordinance, which goes into effect at the beginning of 2014, requires that Council members, as well as members of various city boards and commissions, receive only electronic copies of various documents, including legislation, applications and memoranda. It provides for certain exceptions, such as any confidential document exempted under the Ohio Public Records Act, documents that cannot "reasonably" be sent electronically because of size, time, or technical issues, or documents that an individual requests by email be printed.
The ordinance also requires that each individual be provided with an electronic device, which cannot be removed from the City Hall, with access to the Internet and the person's city email account.
The city will also be required to create an Internet-based "government transparency portal," which will provide public access to a variety of documents including draft legislation and accompanying documentation and statements that are requested to be recorded, approved legislation and accompanying documentation, meeting minutes of all the bodies, contact information for city departments and the city's codified ordinances and charter.
The rejected ordinance would have required graduated cuts to 80 percent of 2012's paper usage this year to 33 percent in 2017 and beyond.
Councilor Mike Rasor, who introduced the ordinances, previously told the Stow Sentry that the city spent $43,000 last year on printing costs and that savings were estimated at about $100,000 over the first five years and about $25,000 annually after that with both ordinances. Council, however, voted down the second ordinance after Mayor Sara Drew spoke out against it.
Drew said she supported creating the "Transparency and Green savings" chapter, calling it a "good faith effort." But she had previously said she had concerns with mandating specific levels, saying it could cause problems if the city reaches the limit before the end of the year. She said May 23 that she also has doubts that Council can impose such mandates on other elected officials, including the mayor, and the law and finance directors.
"I'm not certain that if you pass that, that it's enforceable," she told Council.
Rasor said he was disappointed by Drew's position, adding that the matter had been a topic of discussion for months and that concessions had been made, including basing reductions on percentages of use, rather than of costs.
"So now tonight, the mayor pops in and says we can't do this on a technicality," he said. "We as Council have the authority. We have the power of the purse."
Law Director Brian Reali said he agreed with Rasor, but also with Drew.
"Council, as [Rasor] said, does have the power of the purse," said Reali. "But Council does not have the authority to tell me and my employees what to do on a day-to-day basis."
Councilor Brian D'Antonio, who voted against the ordinance, said he believes it would have imposed "more government work" on the administration by requiring employees to report on paper usage. He also said that the city will still "realize savings" via the ordinance Council approved.
Councilor Mary Bednar, who also voted no, said she agrees, adding that Council could still control paper usage through its budget authority.
Councilor Brian Lowdermilk, however, who was in the minority with his yes vote, said he believes that the rejected ordinance would have provided definite targets.
"I think this sets a goal," he said.