Residents speak out against Dayton’s planned ombudsman funding cuts

Rev. John Paddock urges Dayton leaders not to cut funding to the ombudsman's office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Rev. John Paddock urges Dayton leaders not to cut funding to the ombudsman's office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

For two straight weeks, multiple residents attended the Dayton City Commission meetings to protest the city’s planned funding cuts to the ombudsman office.

Dayton has provided funding to the ombudsman for about 50 years, but officials recently confirmed that the city intends to cease its contributions due to projected revenue declines.

Eliminating funding is a mistake because this is a well known and well respected organization that helps community members navigate the confusing maze of government agencies, nonprofit organizations and benefits and assistance programs, said Charles Cornett, a retired school superintendent who lives in Dayton and volunteers at the office.

All too often citizens can’t get the help they need and instead encounter unhelpful workers who say, “Not my window, try elsewhere,” he said.

“The statement, ‘I’m with the ombudsman office’ operates as a magic word or ‘open sesame’ that electrifies sluggish bureaucratic wheels, leading to quick callbacks and sincere efforts to reach an equitable solution of a citizen’s issue,” Cornett said.

Charles Cornett, a retired school superintendent who lives in Dayton, asks the city to reconsider planned funding cuts to ombudsman office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Charles Cornett, a retired school superintendent who lives in Dayton, asks the city to reconsider planned funding cuts to ombudsman office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The ombudsman’s office has a the unique ability to help resolve citizens’ issues with government agencies or, at very least, get a response, he said.

ExploreDayton to eliminate ombudsman funding

Speaking at Wednesday’s city commission meeting, David Greer said an administrative snafu nearly resulted in his 100-year-old mother being evicted from her nursing facility. He said he contacted the ombudsman’s office, and they helped clear up the matter and dismiss the eviction notice.

He asked the city to continue providing its long-running $50,000 contribution to the office.

David Greer told Dayton leaders the city should continue funding the ombudsman's office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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David Greer told Dayton leaders the city should continue funding the ombudsman's office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Stanley Hirtle, a Dayton attorney who retired earlier this year, recently told city leaders he is disappointed the city made the decision to cease funding to the office without first seeking input from the public.

He asked the city to reconsider.

“This is an excellent and significant institution which for years has helped Dayton and Montgomery County residents deal with the problems of government,” said Hirtle, who had frequent contact with the office when he worked as a senior attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.

City Manager Shelley Dickstein said Dayton unfortunately faces major revenue losses because many people who used to work in the city now work remotely at home for the indefinite future ― possibly permanently.

Seismic shifts in work arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Dayton in unprecedented ways, she said, and that could result in the city losing between $8 million to $20 million in annual income tax revenue.

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein and Deputy City Manager Joe Parlette at an economic development meeting earlier this month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein and Deputy City Manager Joe Parlette at an economic development meeting earlier this month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The city cut more than $12 million from the 2021 budget and it still has more than 100 unfilled positions, Dickstein said, adding, “We are at an all-time low in capacity for serving this community.”

Dickstein said Dayton’s award-winning mediation center will take over the services and assistance the ombudsman’s office provides. Mediation staff have years of experience working with government agencies, she said.

The city will take a hard look at its discretionary spending, including contributions and memberships, because serious budget challenges lie ahead, Dickstein said.

Diane Welborn, who has served as the Dayton-Montgomery County ombudsman since 1999, urged city leaders not to eliminate funding to her office.  CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Diane Welborn, who has served as the Dayton-Montgomery County ombudsman since 1999, urged city leaders not to eliminate funding to her office. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Rev. John Paddock, who formerly was the director of Christ Episcopal Church in Dayton, urged the city to continue funding the office and said the mediation center has a different mission, skill set and base of knowledge than the ombudsman.

He said it would take the mediation center years to develop the expertise and relationships that make the ombudsman’s office effective.

The city has considered cutting funding to the ombudsman’s office in the past, including in the mid-1990s and late 2000s.

The office used to receive $70,000, but it was reduced to $50,000 in 2008 and has remained at that level ever since, said Diane Welborn, who has served as the Dayton-Montgomery County ombudsman for 22 years.

If the city eliminates funding to the ombudsman, the office will have to reduce services to citizens, she said.

The office also receives funding from Montgomery County and the Dayton Board of Education. Their combined contributions last year was $155,745.

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