Aurora voters will have the chance to decide whether the city should adopt six proposed charter amendments at the polls Nov. 5, but most of them won’t alter the way the city operates, according to Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin.
The proposed charter amendments are Issues 19-24 on the ballot, and residents in all precincts of the city will have the opportunity weigh in.
Issue 19, if approved, would increase to $20,000 from $10,000 the amount of money the city can spend without specific City Council approval and a competitive bid process.
Womer Benjamin said she didn’t propose the amendment, but backs its passage, calling it "an issue of bringing Aurora into the 21st century."
"It does not chance the fact that council still has to approve the budget and expenditures under the budget," she explained. "Currently, the city cannot spend more than $10,000 on something without specific council approval."
Raising the bid limit would save time and expense, she added. Currently, for any project over $10,000 in cost, the city has to create a bid packet outlining what, specifically, it is shopping for.
"It would provide a little more flexibility and also reduce some costs because we would not have to go out to bid for items at the $10,000 threshold," she said, explaining that bidding includes advertising, legal notices, printing and publishing costs. "There are time issues because the process of bidding takes at least three to four weeks, assuming you have a viable set of specifications that have already been written. Sometimes, writing the specifications alone takes weeks."
Once companies submit bids on projects, council has to approve the bid, which can add another couple weeks to the process, depending on timing.
Issue 20 would flesh out and better define the charter’s section on the parks and recreation department, which is not as fully developed as charter sections on other departments, according to the mayor.
"There is a section called ‘Parks and Recreation’ in the charter, but it consists of two lines and does not specify that there’s a director," said Womer Benjamin. "And it really doesn’t identify the responsibilities as do the sections in other departments of the city charter."
In addition to formally creating the parks and recreation director position, Issue 20 would also clarify that the department "shall be responsible for the maintenance of public parks, recreation areas and bike paths within the city," according to the ordinance which includes the new charter language.
"The department shall also be responsible for establishing and administering community education programs, sports programs, senior programs, and special events," states the ordinance.
Womer Benjamin said the actual effect of this amendment, if passed, would be minimal because Parks and Recreation Director Laura Holman already fulfills all these duties and departmental responsibilities.
Issue 21 is another issue that won’t effectively change anything, at least as long as Womer Benjamin is mayor. The change, she said, would require the mayor, per the charter, to consider the master plan in zoning decisions.
"I have reviewed the master plan periodically ever since I was elected mayor and before that," she said. "But the provisions regarding the master plan in the charter did not specifically require the mayor to use the master plan as a guide, and I thought it was appropriate to add that."
She pointed out that at some point she won’t be mayor and other mayors may or may not share her inclination to use the master plan as a guide to development decisions.
Issue 22, if approved by voters, would permit Aurora Planning Commission members to spend up to three four-year terms on the commission.
"This also came from the Charter Review Commission, but I think it makes sense because the Planning Commission is one of the most important citizen review bodies in the city regarding the growth and development in the city," stated the mayor. "I think continuity is beneficial."
She said issues coming before Planning Commission can sometimes be "very complicated" and permitting some members to stay for third terms could help the panel make good decisions. She said she’s appointed younger residents to the commission and likes having a range of age and experience on the commission.
Issue 23, if approved, clarifies council’s authority over candidate qualifications.
Womer Benjamin said the change rewords the first sentence of the passage on removal, which currently states, "The Council shall be the sole judge of the election and qualifications of its members."
She pointed out there are requirements set forth by the Portage County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State, as well, so the proposal would eliminate the "sole judge" language. The proposed version is as follows: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this Charter, Council may remove any member for gross misconduct …"
Issue 24 would change the timing of council’s organizational meeting during which new officers are elected and committee members are selected.
The current version requires the meeting take place no later than Jan. 7, but that caused headaches for council last year, said Womer Benjamin.
"In 2018, the seventh was on a Sunday, and … the first meeting wasn’t held until Monday the eighth," she said. "To hold it the week prior would have meant holding it on New Year’s Day."
The change requires the organizational meeting take place in January, she said.
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, email@example.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.