Middletown police, fire chief hiring change misses ballot

A controversial Middletown city charter amendment change will not be on the November ballot, even though it passed by council with a majority vote.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, three charter amendments, including one that would have changed how police and fire chiefs are hired, passed by a 3-2 vote. But they won’t be on the ballot because they lacked a super-majority of four votes.

The Ohio Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the legislative body in order to place a charter amendment on the ballot, according to Special Counsel Les Landen.

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Because of that one vote difference, those amendments will not be on the ballot.

While council could reconsider bringing the amendments back for another vote, both council members who voted against the amendments, Steve Bohannon and Ami Vitori, told the Journal-News they don’t plan to change their votes.

Bohannon said he was “happy it didn’t pass,” referring to the charter amendment that, if it passed in November, would have allowed the city manager to seek external candidates when hiring a police or fire chief. Currently, the police and fire chiefs have civil service protections and come up through the ranks of their respective departments.

He said the city has lived under these rules for the police and fire chiefs and saw no reason to change it.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” he said.

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Council unanimously approved four amendments. The amendments going on the Nov. 6 ballot are:

  • Organizational structure of the city to be determined by the city manager
  • Eliminating the requirement that the city's annual report be maintained at the city library
  • Providing alternate means of publication for certain legislative items and public hearings
  • Eliminating Civil Service Commission and Park Board as charter-created boards.

Middletown voters have seen this proposal to remove the police and fire chiefs from the classified service before and rejected it in 1990. The city’s charter review committee also previously recommended the proposal in 2000 and 2009, but council declined to place it on the ballot in both of those elections.

Representatives from the police and fire unions expressed relief at Tuesday’s outcome.

Officer Jason Wargo, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36, said the council vote was the topic of conversation this morning.

“All of the officers will be happy to know it won’t be on the ballot,” he said.

Frank Baughman, president of IAFF Local 336, said, “We’re happy that the whole thing went down. We already started to put the wheels in motion for a door to door campaign.”

During the meeting’s citizen comments, Baughman, Wargo, Officer Holly Owens and police chaplain Lamar Ferrell spoke in oppositions to the amendment concerning the police and fire chiefs. Baughman said the fire union voted 66-1 against the proposed amendment, while Wargo said 39 members voted against the proposed amendment.

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