By Jeff Gallatin
Persistence paid off for Mayor Debbie Sutherland at Monday’s City Council meeting in getting a resolution passed supporting the changes to the city charter proposed by the Bay Village Charter Review Commission.
Among the proposed changes are Issues 4 and 5, amendments which the city administration has said would help pave the way to allowing the city to join a Westshore area regional fire district or authority being put together. Sutherland has been one of the leaders in moving the proposed district forward. As it currently stands, Bay Village is one of the four cities looking strongly at joining the authority, along with Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake.
If approved by city voters, the issues would effectively take the police and fire chiefs out of the civil service system and allow the city to participate in a regional civil service system which would handle firefighters in the fire authority. Sutherland and proponents have said they are good government and would help make it easier for the city to join the regional fire authority. Opponents, led by the city fire and police unions, have said it would make the chiefs subject to political pressures and also gut current civil service protections.
“These would make it easier for the city to implement the fire authority,” she said. “That’s the intention, not to do anything else.”
Brandon Dimacchia, head of the Bay Village firefighters union, was not pleased when informed of the vote Tuesday.
“It’s nice to know that when we’re going by City Hall in our fire truck 30 times Monday night dealing with the weather situations that the City Council is passing resolutions which make it easier for the fire and police chiefs to be affected by politics and for the civil service system and protections to be gutted.”
City officials had included a resolution supporting the charter amendments on the preliminary council agenda, along with a separate one supporting the capital improvements bond levy from the Bay Village City School District which is also on next Tuesday’s ballot. However, the one pertaining to the charter amendments was taken off after council members reviewed it.
Paul Koomar, president of council, said he was following precedents set by former longtime council President Dick Martin and other councils in not having a resolution supporting the charter amendments.
“They didn’t do that in previous years,” he said. “They stayed neutral and helped provide information to help voters. We’ve done that by allowing the charter review commission to send out a letter explaining the proposed amendments and also holding a public meeting on them in the City Council chambers, which was well-attended and had a lot of discussion.”
Koomar also noted that another proposed amendment, Issue 6, pertains to council members being able to take themselves out of discussion or votes on items where they could have a conflict of interest.
I question whether we should be passing resolutions on a proposal which affects council members,” he said.
However, Sutherland noted that much of the opposition to the proposed charter amendments stems from the fire and police unions and their concerns.
“We’re not trying to do away with civil service, only make it easier for a regional fire authority,” she said.
After hearing Koomar’s concern about Issue 6, she noted that council votes on issues pertaining to itself, such as pay matters.
During the meeting, Sutherland initially proposed a friendly amendment to the resolution supporting the school capital improvements bond levy. However, council indicated it would not support that. Councilman at Large Scott Pohlkamp said he was composing a letter about the charter amendments all the council members could sign and send to the general public and news media. However, that was deemed not enough by some because of the nearness of the election and the fact that the letters to the editor deadline had passed for Westshore-area newspapers.
Sutherland then waited until after other legislation had been considered and an executive session held to discuss a part-time contract for outgoing finance Director Steve Presley, while the city searches for his replacement. Sutherland then proposed a separate resolution supporting the charter amendments, which ultimately passed on a voice vote.
In passing the resolution supporting the capital improvements bond levy on the ballot for the school district, council officials said it’s a logical step.
“We all benefit from having strong schools in the city,” Koomar said. “In addition to providing a strong education for our students, having a strong district with good facilities helps draw people in and helps keep property values high.”
Koomar said having upgraded facilities also benefits all residents because the city and schools share facilities.
“We both use each others’ facilities and hold programs at them,” he said. “So, having upgraded school district buildings means we’ll be holding programs in better facilities for our residents who take part in those activities.”
School Superintendent Clint Keener said the district appreciates the support.
“The school district and city government do share facilities and have different events that a lot of people utilize,” he said.