Plain City officials are starting the process of asking for volunteers to help shape the future government.
At a work session following Monday’s Plain City Village Council meeting, the body authorized solicitor Paul Lafayette to draw up paperwork asking residents if they want the village to become a charter city or remain a statutory community.
Village Administrator Nathan Cahall said he believes the 2020 census will reveal Plain City has crossed the threshold of 5,000 residents and will change from being a village to a city.
He said the census will take place in early 2020 and results would likely be available in late 2020 or early 2021. He said once the Department of Commerce certifies the results, the secretary of state will send a letter to Plain City letting officials know that in 30 days they will be a city.
When that happens, Plain City will automatically become a statutory community unless a charter has been adopted.
According to the Ohio Municipal League, “a charter establishes the framework for the municipal corporation, is adopted by the electors of the municipal corporation, and can only be amended by the electors. Council may recommend and propose charter amendments, but cannot make such amendments on their own… If there is a charter in place, the local government’s exercise of procedural or substantive power of local self-government prevails over conflicting statutes. If there is no charter, state law prevails in terms of how to pass an ordinance and ordinances prevail over matters involving substantive powers of local self-government.”
Cahall said statutory communities are ineffective and expensive.
Village Solicitor Paul Lafayette said he has seen some “god-awful examples” of statutory communities.
Cahall said Plain City would need to have a variety of officials, boards and services. He estimated the cost of implementing the required changes would be $300,000.
“And we would get nothing out of that,” Cahall said, explaining that current staff already performs the statutory duties and meets the needs
Lafayette said because of that, a charter community gets more deference in court procedures.
“It’s your constitution, not the general assembly’s constitution,” Lafayette said.
Cahall said the first step is to ask the community if it wants a committee to create a charter.
Officials explained that 15 charter committee members would need to be identified. Once they are selected, a petition, including the list of charter committee members, would need to be circulated. If the petition receives enough signatures, the question of whether or not a charter commission should be formed would be put on the November ballot.
To be on that ballot, the paperwork would need filed with the Union and Madison county election boards the first week of August. Cahall said working back from there, it would be good to have the signatures by “the first part of June at the latest” so signatures can be checked and the paperwork verified.
“I would say by the end of April we would need a list of 15 people,” Cahall said.
Officials said they would solicit names from the public and hold an open house to inform the public and recruit volunteers. The administrator said council members likely already know people in their circle of friends or organizations who would be a good fit. He said sometimes a personal invitation, along with an explanation of what a charter commission does is more effective than a blanket call for names.
“And remember, some of the best members may be people you think are not 100 percent supportive of a charter,” Cahall said.
Council members asked about the time line and milestone dates. Lafayette explained the process did not have many important dates but could not take more than one year.
One community member asked how the committee would meet that deadline, given that a comprehensive plan took more than three years.
“There will definitely be some direction from someone, ” Mayor Darrin Lane said.
Lafayette added that, “You have a couple hard deadlines and that means if you need to have three meetings next week, you have three meetings.”
He said the good news is, “there is no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Lafayette said the committee can look at other communities’ charters and pick and choose elements they like.
“Anything is open, “ Lafayette said. “It’s a matter of information gathering and making good decisions.”
Once the charter is completed, residents will vote on it. If it is approved, it becomes the law. If voters reject the new proposed charter, it goes back to the committee to be revised.
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