Group says city-county merger plan would “eliminate” city of Dayton

Dayton and Montgomery County officials from both parties join forces to fight plan put forward by Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley for a city-county merger.


Do you support a merger of cities and Montgomery County? Speak out on our new Ohio Politics Facebook page

Opposition to a proposed merger of Montgomery County and local cities turned into a firestorm Friday as Dayton city and county officials along with the county leaders of both major political parties denounced it.

Thirty local elected officials, along with community members including prominent representation from Dayton’s black community and organized labor groups, took turns assailing the proposal at a news conference in the Old Courthouse, titled, “Dayton Together Wrong for Our Community.”

Basing their criticism on a still unfinished draft proposal of the merger, speakers said a merger would disenfranchise Dayton voters, reduce the authority and independence of elected county officials to that of administrative appointees, and rob the urban core of independence.

It called the merger an effort “to eliminate the city of Dayton and drastically change citizen representation in local government.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley is leading the exploratory effort that’s examining the practicality of local government mergers. But his fellow Democratic commissioners, Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge, don’t like the idea as it has evolved.

“This is not the proposal for our region,” Lieberman said. “”We all support regionalism. We’re all in this together, but I’m supportive of regional government that provides good quality service and represents all of Montgomery County.”

Key components of the proposal opposed by the officials include:

• Making only two county administrative chiefs elected by the public, a countywide mayor elected to a four-year term and the county prosecutor. Others would be appointed, including a county manager, chief fiscal officer, medical examiner, and director of public safety.

• Creating a county commission elected from nine districts. There would also be an at-large elected district representative and the elected mayor on the commission. The commission members, including representatives from Dayton, would appoint the county manager.

• Potentially leaving elected mayors in suburban cities such as Kettering and Huber Heights, but eliminating Dayton’s mayor. Some communities could decline to join the merged government.

Mark Owens, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and Municipal Courts clerk, said the proposal, in its current draft form, was “no more than a vehicle to end self-governance of the city of Dayton.”

He said 85 of the 88 counties in Ohio have a governmental structure similar to Montgomery County.

Foley issued a written statement in defense of the regionalism effort.

“This process has already paid its first dividend. We have united the Republican and Democratic chairmen,” he said.

“They should not be threatened by new ideas. This community has never shied away from new ideas. We’re working to bring the community together. I’ll stand by that concept all day long. That’s what this effort is all about.”

Sheriff Phil Plummer, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said the proposal erodes the accountability of elected officials to the voters.

“I don’t want a sheriff appointed by a director here,” he said. “I don’t want my hands tied about what I can talk about or say. If this makes the ballot, vote it down. This adds another layer of bureaucracy we don’t need.”

Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, went further. He said he’s working on a petition drive to oppose the proposal, which he believes could make the ballot next year.

He said merging the city of Dayton with the county would lessen the influence of the black electorate, citing a county government that includes only a single black elected official, County Recorder Willis Blackshear, who was also at the press conference opposing a merger.

The Rev. Xavier L. Johnson, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, said the proposal was being driven by outside forces.

“We will not stand by while forces outside our community make a hostile takeover of our city,” he said. “It represents an insidious attempt to infringe on the rights of the citizens of Dayton, Ohio.”

County Commissioner Judy Dodge said the proposal isn’t being driven by popular demand.

“I’ve never heard (the need) for this from the ground up,” Dodge said. “We need to hear from the people.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley issued a statement after the meeting, saying, “Today I stood with Democrats, Republicans, and leaders from across Montgomery County to voice the community’s opposition to the Dayton Together city-county merger plan. This plan is a bad deal for Dayton and for the entire region. The plan disenfranchises Dayton residents and greatly weakens the voting power of minority residents in our county.”

She added: “Under the proposal, Dayton residents could no longer independently choose their elected leaders. Residents from the suburbs, including voters from cities that could not legally be a part of the merger (such as Centerville, Kettering and Huber Heights) would choose their own elected officials and get to pick Dayton’s leaders, too.”

Paul Leonard, co-chair with Foley of the Dayton Together Charter Development Committee and a former mayor of Dayton and Ohio lieutenant governor, called opposition “both premature and uninformed. I’m proud of the work that has, thus far, been done by this committee of hard-working volunteers from business and labor, former and current elected officials and city manager, academia and representative of both the majority and minority populations in the Greater Dayton area.”

Leonard added: “We have a ton of work to do. We will have to do six months next year doing an outreach campaign.”

About the Author