Monday, February 13, 2006

Council Actions Ignore Voters, Limit Access to Public Business & Create Anxiety for City Employees

Prepared Comments Made to
February 13, 2006

The new membership of the North Canton City Council has been in office for seventy-five days as of today. In this short time, there have been certain actions by this council that are not in the best interest of the residents of North Canton.

City Council actions which ignore the wishes of the electorate, limit the public’s access to public business, and create anxiety for key city employees are not what the public expects.

At the council meeting of January 23, 2006, Councilwoman Susie Hines nominated former Mayor Tom Rice to serve as a member of the CIC.

To make this appointment with the knowledge of the acrimony the City of North Canton endured under former Mayor Tom Rice and of Mayor Rice’s treatment of former City Administrator David Held, now Mayor, flies in the face of the mandate of the voters.

This appointment was noticed by the Repository editorial board in an editorial on Thursday, January 26, 2006. The editorial referred to the appointment as a “provocative choice.” Many people, including myself, would describe it as a repudiation of the wishes of the voters.

I applaud Councilmember Jon Snyder’s vote against this appointment.

Another recent action of this new City Council is the decision to close out the public from the council office. Last week, the door to the council office was closed to the public and in its place, a window was installed.

This action had been rumored for weeks and no one seems to know the reasoning for this action.

I find it quite interesting that former Mayor Tom Rice kept the doors to the Mayor’s office locked and now, to use a term from the Repository editorial noted earlier, that a “ pro-Rice Council” is elected, the doors to the council office are closed.

I might add that with the election of a new mayor, the door to the mayor’s office is now open again. It looks like musical locked doors at North Canton City Hall depending on one’s political affiliation.

The doors to the council chamber have been open to the public for as long as I remember. This is where citizens come to meet their elected representatives. They do not expect to stand at a window in a wall in a hallway next to the copier machine to ask questions from their elected officials regarding the public’s business.

And where is this window to the council office? It is behind a closed door that leads back to the finance department. And next to the council window is the now closed council office door.

The installation of this barrier to the public, I mean window, resulted in the expenditure of $375 and the reconfiguration of City Hall to suit the whims of someone on city council.

The funny thing is I have been unable to find out who requested the installation of the council window.

I was assured by the mayor’s office several weeks ago that this request would be discussed publicly in council. Unfortunately, that never happened.

I spoke to councilmember Jon Snyder and he had no knowledge of the plans to install a window in the council office. Former councilwoman Marcia Kiesling has relayed to me that Councilmember Pat DeOrio does not know who signed the invoices authorizing the installation of the council window.

By chance, I spoke to Councilwoman Susie Hines coming out of the council office last Monday regarding the council window and she did not know who authorized the council window either. Her response was that the council window would “increase efficiency.”

I will let you ponder the “efficiency” response yourself. It went right over my head and out the council window!

My last concern is the anxiety that this council has brought on our city government by delaying the appointments of two key city officials for weeks. In the past, the finance director and law director have been reappointed at council’s organizational meeting on December 1.

After a delay of six weeks, the city’s law director announced publicly on January 9, 2006, that he would
leave the position he had held since September 2003.

On January 23, 2006, after a delay of nearly two months this newly elected council did confirm the appointment of the finance director who has held this position for four years.

Both of these individuals have served this city with the highest degree of competence and professionalism. Each is vital to the day-to-day business of this city.

Is this anyway to treat employees of this caliber? I hope you know the answer to that question.

Why have these appointments been handled in this manner?

What is this council’s agenda?

Many of you on this council are brand-new to North Canton City government.

What direct knowledge did you have that caused you to doubt the job performance and professionalism of the current Finance Director and Law Director?

Your actions have created needless anxiety for these vital city employees, the people who work with them, and the stable process of city government that has been ongoing here in North Canton for many years.

Now, the city finds itself looking for a new law director.

In your search for a new law director, I believe you are abusing the privilege of calling “executive sessions under Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

Invoking the subject of Personnel is a valid exception under the Open Meeting’s Act but it cannot be a catch-all for any and all personnel issues under Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and I believe that is what is happening in your search for a new law director.

Three years ago in the search for a law director, executive sessions were limited and the time in executive session used effectively.

The present Personnel Committee has invoked no fewer than five executive sessions, each lasting several hours and two more executive sessions are planned later this week.

The Personnel Committee has taken on the task of interviewing all twenty-two applicants for the position of law director.

To me, you are giving false hope to all the applicants and failing to effectively utilize your time.

Putting in a window to the council office may be someone’s idea of efficiency but interviewing all 22 applicants for the law director position is certainly not my idea of efficiency.

In a review of the resumes of all the applicants, I did not see any applicant who was as qualified as the present North Canton Law Director. Mr. Pusateri has almost three years experience on the job and has served this city well.

It is too bad that your politics have led you to now need to reinvent the wheel.

It is a shame we are losing the knowledge and experience that the present law director has attained here in North Canton!

The City of North Canton at present has a new Mayor, a new City Administrator, and the majority of the members of the present city council are new.

With this lack of experience and depth of knowledge spread through all three branches of North Canton City government, it does not make much sense to let Mr. Pusateri’s knowledge and experience leave our government.

I trust that this pro-Rice Council will surprise us all and be a pro-North Canton Council in all of its decisions, now and in the future.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton