CIRCLEVILLE - City voters will be asked a single question on the May ballot Tuesday, and the answer will determine the shape of city government for years to come: "Shall the proposed charter as reported by the charter commission of the city of Circleville providing for a council-manager form of government be adopted?"
A "yes" vote would begin the process of converting the current statutory form of government ruled by the Ohio Revised Code to a charter form developed specifically for Circleville by the 12-member Circleville Charter Commission elected last year. The commission includes a former mayor of the city, a former member of city council and citizens from each of the city's four wards.
If passed, the proposed charter would go into effect Jan. 1, 2016. However, with changes required for upcoming elections and lengths of terms for current public offices, all aspects of the charter would not completely go into effect until the year 2020.
Supporters believe the proposed charter will provide a more efficient, effective and accountable form of government than the current statutory system and provide more consistency for the business of the city that has sometimes been interrupted at great cost by abrupt changes in administration and direction.
Opponents of the charter express concerns about a loss of checks and balances in the proposed system and a loss of officials elected by voters, along with the cost of the transition from the current form of government.
Currently, the city of Circleville operates with an elected mayor in charge of administration and an elected city council led by a council president with three at-large members and four others, one representing each of the city's four wards. Other elected offices include the city auditor, treasurer and law director.
Under the proposed charter, the administration would be run by a city manager hired by and reporting to city council, effectively replacing the position of mayor.
City council would still consist of four ward council members and three at-large members, but one of those at-large seats would then be designated to serve as ceremonial mayor for the city as well as council president.
The city manager would then appoint a law director as well as a finance director that would take the place of both the treasurer and auditor, eliminating those three elected positions.
According to the charter commission, since the city would no longer be paying a mayor, treasurer or council president, the roughly $90,000 in annual savings would offset the cost of hiring a city manager.
Another big advantage, supporters say, is consistency within city government, which currently sees all council members coming up for election at the same time. Under the proposed charter, elections for council seats will be staggered between years to eliminate the possibility of an entirely new council coming into office at the same time.
The city manager position also would help maintain consistency for city administration, which is currently headed by a mayor serving a four-year term. Over the past 25 years, Circleville has only had one-term mayors, meaning the leadership and department heads change every four years.
"Over the years, the city has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on projects that were a priority for one administration, but a new administration comes in, and it's not a priority," said Barry Keller, council member, at a public meeting explaining the charter in February. "A city manager will not come and go with politics. It will be consistent, more efficient and save taxpayer dollars by having a professional person in that position."
While the reorganization of council and elected officials would not fully go into effect until 2020, other parts of the charter would be implemented sooner, including holding non-partisan elections for council by 2016 and easing the process for competitive bidding.
All registered voters in the city of Circleville were mailed a copy of the proposed charter in early April. That information also can be found on the Circleville Charter Commission's web site at www.circlevillechartercommission.us.
Polls will be open throughout the city from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for Election Day on Tuesday.