Kettering group pushes more charter amendments

City leaders say grievances could be handled without ballot issues.

The group, Citizens for a Better Kettering, is already blanketing Kettering mailboxes with yellow direct-mail fliers with an urgent request for signatures.

But city officials say the group’s messaging and efforts aren’t properly placed, arguing many of the grievances could be solved by citizens showing up to meetings and participating in city government — or at least picking up the phone and talking to them.

Citizens for a Better Kettering in 2012 successfully championed term limits for mayor and council and cut their pay in half. This year, the group led by resident Ron Alban seeks about 2,000 signatures in order to put on the ballot a charter amendment that would:

  • directly elect vacant council seats instead of appointment by city council;
  • offer “reasonable and equal opportunity” for all residents to speak on any proposed ordinance or resolution during the public meeting before votes; and,
  • prohibit city council proposing changes to the charter regarding term limits, council compensation, initiatives, referendum and recall.

Further, the charter amendment would require the city to mail — at taxpayer expense — a report to every registered Kettering voter’s residence the top 15, median 15 and bottom 15 salaries of city employees.

Alban said he didn’t intend to start a ballot initiative petition until “I discovered — based on a council agenda that, unbeknownst to me and, I believe, unbeknownst to the majority of Kettering residents — the mayor had appointed a charter review committee.”

Kettering’s charter has since 1966 required the mayor to appoint a review commission at least every 10 years. This year’s commission, comprised of business leaders, school board officials and other residents, met in open meetings publicized online and established several recommendations, mostly grammatical and gender-pronoun changes.

The biggest, though, was a recommendation to change Citizens for a Better Kettering’s successful addition of term limits to Kettering’s charter.

In 2012 the group promoted — and 62 percent of voters that year approved — a limit for future mayors and council members to two consecutive four-year terms before requiring them to sit out four years before running again.

The 2016 charter review commission recommends exempting the mayor from term limits and lengthening the limits for members of council to 12 years. As a matter of procedure, council accepted — but did not approve or in any way ratify — the recommendations in May, around the time Alban caught wind of the commission.

Council will begin discussion about the charter commission’s recommendations at this week’s council meeting, said Mayor Don Patterson. If council decides to send the recommendations to ballot, citizens would be afforded the opportunity to approve or reject the recommendations.

Patterson said Alban’s group has made no attempts to rectify concerns with the existing council or city government.

“Mr. Alban does not have discussions with people,” Patterson said. “This isn’t like he’s called three times, emailed twice and said he’s had some problems, and we’re not doing anything.”

Alban says it has been many years since he has regularly attended council meetings and referred to the idea as “a waste of our time.”

A seasoned campaigner, Alban also co-founded the group Citizens United to End Ohio’s Estate Tax, which collected more than 85,000 signatures statewide from estate tax opponents.

In 2012 Alban’s Citizens for a Better Kettering raised and spent about $5,200 during its successful campaign to change Kettering’s charter — the majority of which went to postage and printing. Records show the organization filed for termination after the 2012 election and closed out its remaining bank account balance by making a $5.40 donation to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C., think-tank.

City officials said several of the issues addressed by Alban’s letter mailed to Kettering residents aren’t fully accurate. For example, Alban’s letter states “Council does not allow citizens to speak at council meetings until after council votes on ordinances (and) resolutions.”

City officials pointed to the charter language stating that before voting on ordinances “all persons present with new information shall be given an opportunity to be heard prior to the final vote” — something Alban now acknowledges and said he would correct after this newspaper pointed out the discrepancy.

Still, Alban said his ballot language “eliminates the nebulous restriction of ‘new information.’”

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