Officials from the Dayton Unit NAACP and local church groups launched a petition drive Saturday in opposition to the proposal to merge the governments of Dayton and Montgomery County.
“This merger will disenfranchise Dayton’s 140,000 residents who will be pushed into a larger voting block,” said Dayton NAACP President Derrick Foward, flanked by community leaders at an event Saturday.
After the event the group fanned out to the Dayton African American Cultural Festival and planned to circulate the petition at area churches “so we can send a powerful message to the Dayton Together initiative,” Foward said.
Dayton Together is a non-profit group that is drafting a proposal to merge the governments of Dayton and Montgomery County. A draft city-county charter is expected in December, and may go to voters in the November 2016 election.
Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, one of the backers of the initiative, said Saturday the group hopes to start holding public input sessions in September to hear the community’s thoughts and concerns and take them into account when drafting the plan.
“This is a big idea,” he said. “We’re hoping by the time we get done writing this thing we’re going to take the concerns that people have and try to make it stronger.”
He touted the proposal’s purported merits: “We think a more unified local government structure can help us have a stronger local economy, we think it can help us get some costs down so we can invest in the community without raising taxes and we think it will help us address some long-term issues like poverty.”
But the petition makes clear the opponents’ concerns: giving voters outside of Dayton control over city operations, decreasing the power of the minority community, spreading city services thin and threatening the city’s water resources.
The Rev. P.E. Henderson of the Corinthian Baptist Church called it a “civil rights issue.” He noted there is only one black countywide elected official: Recorder Willis Blackshear. By contrast, three of the five sitting city commissioners are black.
Demographically, Dayton is 43 percent black, while the county is 21 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Plus those at the petition kickoff Saturday complained that Dayton Together is drafting its plan behind closed doors.
“This is an initiative that simply allows the county to take over the city,” said Stacey Benson-Taylor, Dayton NAACP executive committee member.
Of primary concern to the people there was that the interests of Dayton voters would be swallowed up by county voters who see as much benefit in investment going to Miller Lane or Austin Landing as to Dayton.
“Why would every city and township in Montgomery County be permitted to vote on the future of Dayton, Ohio?” said William B. Schooler, president of the Dayton Baptist Pastors and Ministers Union.
Benson-Taylor said she hopes the petition will help educate the public about what is at stake in such a merger, though Foward expressed doubt that any merger proposal would pass muster.
“I don’t think any kind of regionalism makes sense at this point in time,” he said.