Commission reverses salary debate decision

At a recent city Government Study Commission meeting, the commissioners voted 4-3 to specify the full-time mayor and part-time City Council members’ initial salaries in the charter they’re drawing up.

On Monday, at the urging of Chairman Wayne Hippo, the commissioners revisited the issue, reversing their decision, thanks to a switch by commissioner Richard Fiore – leaving the matter of setting the salaries to a transition team recommendation and, ultimately, City Council.

The charter should create a “footprint,” while council should handle specifics, according to Hippo.

“I’m with you!” exclaimed commissioner Dave Duncan.

Otherwise, “it’s constraining,” he said, in keeping with his repeated mantra that a minimal charter is best.

The commission should trust future councils and not micromanage, he said.

“Duncan’s first rule: ‘When it doubt, leave it out,'” said City Councilman Dave Butterbaugh from the audience, where he’s been for many commission meetings.

Commissioner Richard Flarend argued for setting the salaries, saying that relieves the burden of setting them from City Council, which is often “loath” to be fair to itself.

But charter-set initial salaries have invariably proven to be soon obsolete and were invariably superseded by council-set salaries, Fiore said.

The commission voted to leave an escalator clause in the charter to ensure that if council doesn’t adjust the salaries regularly, adjustments would happen automatically, based on local economic conditions.

Later, Hippo urged the commission to consider setting term limits, a recommendation he’s made previously.

The lack of term limits is responsible for many of the ills of government, he said.

The Third Class City Code under which the city operates now doesn’t set term limits.

Hippo recommended 12 years total as a mayor or on council.

Duncan again applauded Hippo’s initiative.

“Term limits are essential for good government,” he said.

Commissioner Bev Green called him on that.

Why say less is best on issue after issue, then suddenly want a restriction that isn’t currently in place? she asked.

He then explained.

He had lost an earlier fight to require performance evaluations for elected officials, with other commissioners arguing that elections every four years were the equivalent of performance evaluations.

Term limits would serve as a substitute.

“Duncan’s second rule: ‘When in doubt, throw them out,” chirped Butterbaugh.

Duncan grinned.

At higher levels of government, term limits make sense, but with “local politics, the game changes,” he said, arguing that because election campaigns are cheap, unseating incumbents is not an insurmountable task.

The voters can enforce their own term limits by voting incumbents out, added commissioner Bob Kutz.

And what if the incumbent is “doing great things?” Green asked rhetorically.

Too often, the electorate is “prey to the great man syndrome,” and officeholders are in place too long, Duncan said.

People in power are usually not as irreplaceable as many think, Hippo said.

Ultimately, the commission compromised, setting a three-term limit for

mayor, none for council members.

The commission also agreed to remain silent on whether to establish a pension for the mayor.

The commission debated how specifically to delineate the process for creating ordinances and resolutions.

Under Duncan’s principle, the less said the better.

Moreover, a leaner ordinance process can be cheaper and less cumbersome, commissioners argued.

Flarend, however, urged a robust ordinance process, to guarantee that the public gets plenty of opportunity to understand and comment on important council actions.

Eliminating newspaper ads in favor of city website notices could provide that protection without forfeiting the savings, he said.

The discussion came to a head – without coming to conclusion – over whether to require ordinances for sale or lease of city property.

All agreed that it makes no sense to spend hundreds of dollars on ads to sell a sliver of side yard worth $100.

But all agreed they didn’t want council to sell or lease Highland Park for a development project without full public participation in the decision.

The commission plans to finish a final rough draft of the charter around the end of May, then hold a public meeting jointly with City Council on June 9.

The commission will hold its last two meetings – to incorporate worthwhile changes suggested at the public meeting and to approve its final report – in July.

The proposed charter will go before the voters in a referendum at the general election in November.

If the voters approve the charter, it would go into effect at the beginning of 2015.

The non-electoral changes – taxing and structural government changes – could go into effect at that time, under the direction of City Council.

The newly reconstituted electoral government wouldn’t go into place until 2016, based on the 2015 primary and general election results.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.