Dylan Page, a local citizen, has proposed amendments to the City of Washington Court House charter that would alter the form of government and how representatives are chosen.
A charter is a legal document that establishes the boundaries, government, financial abilities, etc. for a municipality. When significant changes are made, such as switching the form of government from a city manager to a mayor, specific steps must be taken and the proposal must go on the election ballot to be voted on by city residents.
During the Washington C.H. City Council meeting on Wednesday night, Page brought the proposal before the council.
Page graduated from Miami Trace High School and is currently a student at Ohio State University, where he is on track to graduate in May of 2021. According to Page, he has done extensive research for the proposed amendments for over a year and has a petition being signed by community members.
The proposed amendments, if passed, would enact an elected mayor in lieu of a city manager and enact term limits for both the mayor and city council members. The mayor would be allowed to run for four terms—at four years per term. The council members would be allowed to run for five terms—at four years per term.
Another part of the charter amendment would bring wards into consideration for the city council members. Wards are geographic divisions within a city for administrative and representative purposes. Washington CH currently has four wards.
Currently, all seven council members are at large. This means council members can be chosen from any location within the city. Under the proposed amendments, there would be one council member chosen per ward and the remaining three would be at large.
According to Page, the current council members would still be valid under this amendment as four of them are from four different wards already, and the remaining three would be at large. Although Washington City Manager Joe Denen’s position, as well as the positions of those he appointed, would be terminated upon the effective date of the amendments, Denen would be able to run for mayor if he chose.
Another amendment proposed by Page would require the city to use the Ohio Online Checkbook. This provides an online service for the public to view expenses and how funds are being allocated. To see what kind of information is provided by Ohio’s Online Checkbook, visit https://local.ohiocheckbook.com/.
Canvasing for the petition will be occurring “every day.” According to Page, he must obtain at least 227 signatures, although he is aiming for at least 300. His goal is to have the needed signatures by the end of June and to have the proposed amendments on the election ballet in Nov.
The petition includes a copy of the proposed amendments for community members to read. The signature page is at the end of the amendments so people can read them prior to signing the document.
As of Wednesday night, Page explained the petition had gained over 100 signatures. Following canvasing on Thursday, the number of signatures for the petition is expected to increase.
On Wednesday, city council member Caleb Johnson agreed with Page that the city needs a mayor-council form of government. Johnson did not agree with the use of wards, because he said it would go against the one-person, one-vote rule, as the different wards in the city have different populations.
Johnson asked Page if he would be willing to work on the proposed amendments with others and said, “I would be willing to work on it.”
“Well, councilman Johnson,” answered Page. “I’ve already been out canvasing and have talked to many of the city’s electors. I have over 100 signatures already supporting this initiative. I would like to go forward.”
Council member Kendra Hernandez said, “I appreciate the fact that you’ve done all this homework and research, but until you are actually involved with our government one-on-one, you don’t understand it. I will be the first one to tell you that when I came in, I had pre-conceived notions and ideas of what needed to happen and I will tell you that within a year those all went away.”
“We are in the best financial status of many towns,” explained Hernandez. “We do not have issues like Hillsboro and Circleville. We are getting done exactly what we said we would do—we said we would re-hire police, we said we would re-hire firemen—we’re doing that. Our community wanted something in replacement to the pool—we’re doing that. So until you’re actually really involved on a committee or in a council, then I don’t know that you really know what goes on.”
She finished with, “In my opinion, you pull the smartest, the most talented, the ones who care the most about the community—and those are the people who are going to campaign and those are the people that are going to be supported. So, unfortunately I disagree with you.”
“All of you right now could be re-elected. So, if you are the best and the brightest, you all can be re-elected,” Page responded. “She said, ‘you have to be involved to understand the process’—I disagree with that because that says the only way you’d understand government is to be part of the club—you know, be part of the seven.”
Council member Dale Lynch said he does not agree with a mayor-form of government being the best for Washington C.H. He said, “I personally think government is really hard, and Mr. Page, I fully think you have every right to do what you’re doing—I 100 percent disagree with you.”
Lynch explained he disagrees because he believes changing to a mayor-form of government would bring “politics into our community. One thing that makes our community, I think, so special is we can have seven people on city council—some Democrats, some Republican, some middle, some whatever—we get along, we serve the city, because we love the city.”
According to Lynch, he represents the entire city, not one ward and will fight to the best of his ability to keep politics out of the community.
After the meeting ended, Page explained, “This would be all non-partisan. You don’t run as a Democrat, you don’t run as a Republican—just how it is now. You run as who you are and what policies you are setting forth for the city. The mayor would be elected, non-partisan, plurality of the voters.”
Rose Hazelbaker, a local resident, was present during the council meeting and spoke passionately against the proposed amendments. She said the city council and Denen do a great job managing the city and there is no need to alter the charter. She promised to get as many signatures as necessary in order to keep the charter from being altered.
Hazelbaker said, “Out of the four city managers that we have had that I have worked with, that this one right here [Denen] is the best we’ve had—ever and will ever have. And probably because he’s home-grown. Probably because he knows all of us on a first-name basis. He knows what we need.”
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Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-463-1225.