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The Suburbanite
  • Cole: Reduce size of Canton City Council

  • But opponent in May 7 primary calls Cole’s proposal a “political stunt.”

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  • Councilman at-large Joe Cole wants to do away with the job he and two others now hold to reduce the size of city government.
    Cole, who is running for the Ward 9 council seat instead of his at-large position, plans to ask Law Director Joseph Martuccio to draft a resolution to shrink City Council from 12 to nine members by eliminating the three at-large seats, which represent all city residents. He pitched the plan Wednesday during an endorsement interview at The Repository. The move cannot be made during an incumbent’s term and must be approved by voters.
    Canton’s council is made up of nine ward council members, three at-large members and a council president.
    The plan would save the general fund $92,957 annually, based on the current annual salary, benefits and health insurance costs, according to Finance Director Joseph DiRuzza.  
    “Since I’ve been on council I’ve always worked to streamline government and make things more efficient,” Cole said. “People have told me, ‘Joe you can’t do this.’ But it is something we can do, and I just don’t think having nine ward council members and three at-large is the best use of our resources.”
    ‘POLITICAL STUNT’
    Cole’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Ward 9 Councilman Frank Morris, called it a “political stunt.”
    “It’s easier to try to change something than admit you made a mistake,” Morris said. “I don’t think he should have run against me in Ward 9. He feared losing his at-large seat.”
    Morris believes Cole feared he would lose reelection if up against Democratic incumbents Mary Cirelli, James Babcock and former at-large councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Smuckler. Cirelli took out petitions to run for treasurer and her at-large seat, but opted to run for treasurer.
    Morris said at-large council members are needed to provide balance to the legislative authority. Otherwise, he said, ward council members would be fighting for what’s best for their ward, rather than what’s best for the whole city. He called the idea “deceptive.”
    Cole said he’s not using the issue as an excuse for running for a ward seat, rather than running for reelection for his at-large position, which he’s held for two terms.
    “This is why I took out two petitions,” he said, “because (the idea) took a lot of thought and consideration. This is doable. Your political opponents are always going to say things. You’ve got to have thick skin in this business, so that’s of no concern to me.”
    OHIO LAW
    Cole says the city’s population no longer supports 12 council members, plus a council president. Canton’s population has dropped from 113,631 in 1960 to about 73,000 today. That’s a 36 percent decline.
    Page 2 of 3 - He said overall representation of the city can come from the council president, who votes only in the case of a tie.
    By law, a statutory city must have at least seven (four ward, three at-large), but no more than 17 members of the legislative authority. Typically, additional seats are added as the population grows.
    However, an alternative plan can be adopted to change the makeup of council so, for example, that all the members are elected from the city at large or, as Cole has proposed, that all the members are elected from the wards.
    The resolution must state how the change will take place. It cannot “terminate” the term of an incumbent.
    A two-thirds majority of council would have to agree to place the issue on either the primary or general election ballot not less than 75 days from passage. It can’t be vetoed by the mayor. An initiative petition from residents can also be filed to have the issue put in front of voters.
    Martuccio said Wednesday he had not received any request yet from Cole. He said previous council members have discussed switching Canton’s form of government from a statutory city to a charter city. Canton and Parma are the largest statutory cities in the state, he said.
    “I’ve never looked at it much,” he said. “This will certainly get my research wheels turning.”
    OTHERS REACT
    Smuckler, a former councilman at-large and current candidate for the same, said Cole was afraid of losing his at-large seat and is now resorting to political grandstanding.
    Smuckler has been a proponent of a charter government for years. Smuckler says if voters are going to be asked to consider a change to the makeup of government then they should also have the option to switch to a charter. Charter cities have more power of self-governance through home rule, meaning they can create their own laws so long as they don’t conflict with state laws. Smuckler said a charter provides more opportunities to cut costs.
    “Give them a chance to vote on a charter form of government, too, if you’re going to do that,” he said.
    Mayor William J. Healy II, an ally of Cole’s, supports the concept.
    “We’ve got 13 members for a city under 75,000 population,” he said. “Columbus has seven council members and they have a population of more than 785,000 people. They (Canton’s seats) probably should have been eliminated years ago. ... It’s a long time coming, but people are afraid of change.”
    Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527 or
    matthew.rink@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @mrinkREP
    WHAT OTHER CITIES HAVE
    CANTON
    • 12 members, nine elected by ward, three elected citywide and a council president. Population: 73,007
    Page 3 of 3 - AKRON
    • Thirteen members, 10 members elected by ward and three members elected citywide. Population: 199,110
    CINCINNATI
    • Nine members elected citywide. Population: 296,943
    CLEVELAND
    • Nineteen members, all elected by ward, and a council president. Population: 396,815
    COLUMBUS
    • Seven members elected citywide Population: 787,033
    DAYTON
    • Five citywide members, including the mayor who serves as council president. Population: 141,527
    PARMA
    • Nine ward members and a council president. Population: 81,601
    TOLEDO
    • Twelve members, six elected by ward and six elected citywide  Population: 287,208
    YOUNGSTOWN
    • Seven members, all elected by ward, and a council president. Population: 66,982
    SOURCES: City websites, U.S. Census Bureau Population Finder