It was impressive to the Stark County Political Report that Massillon City Council (Council), Tuesday night under the leadership of Environmental Committee chair Ed Lewis, IV (Republican - Ward 6) pulled a piece of legislation which was not quite ready for prime time.
Not many legislators, especially one with a mere two years under his belt as a law maker, has the level of sophistication demonstrated by Lewis.
What legislation was that?
What was the primary motivation for the legislation being pulled?
According to Chairman Lewis: to excise the language "and declaring an emergency."
Lewis thinks, and, apparently has the ear of a number of Massillon Council members, that Councils of the past may have overused the emergency status. He has been in discussion with various Council members about cutting back on Massillon's use of emergency language to those situations in which there "truly" is an emergency.
In considering the wastewater upgrade legislation, Massillon is about to spend some big bucks (about $14 million or so) bringing Massillon's wastewater system up to a higher standard of performance and capacity.
Lewis could not be sure, as of The Report's conversation with him last evening, how much of the upgrade is U.S./Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is mandated. But he was clear that a least part of it is. By the time Council meets again, he will have a handle on the mandated number.
So the upgrade is not, Lewis says, - as one Massillon community activist Scott Graber has been saying - a completely discretionary action which is totally unmerited given the fact that Massillon is already in hock some $36 million or so on past projects.
The Report is told that Massillonians currently and typically pay about $63 a quarter for wastewater treatment services.
One would think that a $14 million sewer system upgrade would lead to an increased assessment, no?
Not according to Lewis. He says he will lead a fight to keep an increase from happening.
But before moving on with this topic, The Report pauses to deal with a side matter.
Still on Council is Ward 4 Democrat Quinessa Hampton.
She has withdrawn as a candidate for election to Council as previously reported by the SCPR.
However, her place on the ballot has been taken Shaddrick Stinson. He was appointed by Ward 4's Democratic precinct persons but not including Joy Cicchinelli, wife of former mayor Frank Cicchinelli.
The big question insofar as the future makeup of Council is concerned, is whether or not Quinessa's husband, Edward (as a non-partisan candidate), stays in the race to suceed her.
If he does, it is very likely in yours truly's assessment that Republican Jim Triner pulls off the seemingly impossible: a Republican representing Massillon's most democratic ward - Ward 4.
Back to the primary focus of this blog.
There are two points that the SCPR will make in this blog with respect to the pulling of the wastewater ordinance.
First, it is obvious that Council has listened to Graber and reconsidered the pace they were moving ahead on the project even though some on Council. it seems to the SCPR, think Graber is an alarmist who doesn't always get things right.
Moreover, when he does, he often gets overbearing in approach and thereby becomes counterproductive to his own purpose of convincing the other(s) of the merit of his argument.
That Council has apparently - to some degree - heeded Graber on the wastewater issue - bodes well for all Massillon citizens in general.
The message that the SCPR takes from the seeming impact of Graber is this: Council takes each and every Massillon citizen input very seriously.
Like so many community activists, Graber can be annoying and hard to abide. The temptation is to ignore him. But that would be a mistake. Graber-esque folks need to be paid attention to.
Of course, hearing does not equate to, necessarily, agreeing with. But in the SCPR's experience over many years of dealing with many Stark County legislative bodies, Massillon's seems to be more attentive to citizens than the others.
Second, that Lewis and several of his colleagues have owned up to Council overusing "emergency status" is a refreshing reflection (contrary to the bullheadedness of bodies like North Canton Council, Canton City Council and others in Stark County) and has been pondering what to do about the apparent overuse, is refreshing.
Lewis tells The Report that in those situations in which less than 2/3rds of Council's vote for passing a given ordinance (which in and of itself obviously indicates some controversy about the legislation); the exclusion of the "emergency clause" preserves the right of a citizen or group of citizens to collect signatures of a minimum of 10% of those voting in the last gubernatorial election to get the measure on the ballot.
Lewis thinks that it is important that citizens have the referendum option. And the Stark County Political Report wholeheartedly agrees.
This act of preserving the right of citizens to have a say is what legislative bodies throughout Stark County, if they are small letter "d" democrats, ought to be doing.
Citizen sensitivity and responsiveness is the highest calling of any elected official insofar as the SCPR is concerned.
As this blog is written, it is clear to The Report that the governments of North Canton and Canton are not nearly sensitive enough. It could be and yours truly suspects that the North Canton/Canton approach is typical of Stark County political subdivisions at large.
But that most do it does not make it the right thing to do "as a matter of course" and thereby put roadblocks in the way of citizens to invoke democratic processes to challenge legislative action taken.
In Canton's case, The Report is told that its council acts on the advice of Law Director Joe Martuccio that ordinances generally be passed as an emergency so as to put the city in the best possible situation in the case that litigation ensues.
An SCPR examination of Canton Council's agenda for August 26th shows that 24 of 26 proposed ordinances are designated as being an emergency. Such does not speak well for Canton.
In North Canton's case, the disregard is so pronounced that the city has been challenged in a lawsuit about its overuse (documented going back ten years or so).
While a number of legal observers have told yours truly that the North Canton lawsuit challenge is going nowhere, here's hoping that these folks are wrong.
Cutting off democratic rights "as a matter of course" is axiomatically wrong our republican-democratic structure of government.
What's more, it is indicative that governments' making legislation "an emergency" on a largely "across the board" basis is being done so that the governors will not be inconvenienced or tested.
It certainly cannot be primarily for the benefit of the governed. Here and there, emergency legislation may be a benefit, but it clearly is not generally so.
It is somewhat ironic that Massillon's Council controlled by Republicans is taking a look at preserving/reserving a greater degree democratic process for its citizens.
Canton's 12 - 0 Democrat controlled council seemingly is going on pell mell without so much as a second thought of looking at preserving/reserving democratic process possibilities (i.e. referendum rights) for Canton's citizens.
Besides "the citizen affirming actions" that Massillon Council is acting out on and reflecting upon; despite political party identification differences (i.e. 5 Republicans, 4 Democrats), there seems to be an abundant mutual respect between them across party lines. This mutual regard is yet another reason to be impressed with Massillon's Council.
The SCPR has written about lame duck Democratic Councilman Larry Slagle and the "patient, plodding and 'come let us reason together'" leadership he is demonstrating on the matter of revising Massillon's ordinance on the structure and management of Massillon's parks and recreation function.
This edition of Massillon City Council is one that should be a model for all legislative bodies across the length and breadth of Stark County.