Charter changes would make city more accountable, supporters say

Dayton voters will consider recommendations from review commission.

Proposed changes to Dayton’s charter would reduce the number of signatures citizens must collect to put an amendment on the ballot or place legislation before commissioners for consideration.

City officials said the changes will make city government more accountable to its citizens.

The charter currently requires that 10 percent of the city’s 70,000 registered voters must sign a petition before an ordinance can be submitted to city commissioners for consideration.

One-quarter of electors must sign a petition to place a citizen-initiated referendum on the ballot.

But on Nov. 4, Dayton voters will be asked to approve four charter amendments, one of which reduces the signature requirement to 1,250 for initiating a proposed ordinance. Petitioners would be able to put an amendment on the ballot by collecting 2,500 signatures.

These changes and others are intended to update a document written a century ago that contains provisions that are outdated, obsolete and conflict with state law, said Paul Woodie, a member of the Charter Review Committee.

“We have provisions that don’t speak to contemporary law,” said Woodie. “We updated and deleted a whole bunch of sections that have no purpose.”

The Dayton City Commission in May appointed a Charter Review Committee comprised of citizens, city employees and former Mayor Clay Dixon.

The group met five times and was tasked with evaluating and issuing recommendations on changes to the charter, which first took effect in 1914.

The group unanimously agreed on the recommendations. On Wednesday, city commissioners approved placing the proposed changes before voters.

Most notably, the new language clarifies the city government’s powers and makes it easier for citizens to pursue legislation and charter amendments.

Currently, 10 percent of electors must sign a petition before an ordinance can be submitted to the city commission for consideration. If that requirement is met but the city fails to act or rejects the proposal, the petitioners can put the issue on the ballot if they collect signatures from 25 percent of registered voters.

The new language says petitions need only 1,250 signatures to put an ordinance before commissioners for consideration. If commissioners do not approve the ordinance, petitioners can put the measure before voters if they collect 2,500 signatures.

The new language also allows citizens to prevent a non-emergency ordinance passed by commissioners from taking effect. This can be accomplished by submitting a petition with 4,000 signatures in opposition of the legislation within 30 days of the vote.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city recognizes the current petition requirements are unreasonably high and prevent citizens from participating in city governance.

“Part of the neighborhood engagement strategy is getting more people involved in the process,” Whaley said.

Whaley said she does not expect the changes to lead to a flood of petitions. But she said residents must have a way to challenge government actions and legislation they dislike.

The new amended charter language also grants the city any power already authorized by state law.

Some provisions of the charter were ambiguous or outright prevented the city from accepting certain fees and taking some actions, Woodie said.

He said the city for years was unable to collect a $5 licensing fee that was distributed to all Ohio cities and towns. Woodie said the charter implied the city was prohibited from accepting the payment though it was already being collected.

“We had provisions that prohibited the city of Dayton, the only city in Ohio, (from) doing certain things,” he said. “Now we just say, whatever the state permits cities to do, we can do.”

The new language also calls for a committee to review the charter every 10 years to ensure the document is up-to-date.

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