Monday, July 11, 2011

92% of North Canton City Ordinances Adopted As Emergency Legislation

Prepared Comments Made to
July 11, 2011

In the year 2010, 92% of all municipal ordinances adopted by North Canton City Council were passed as emergency legislation. I suspect most North Canton residents would be dismayed to know that “municipal emergencies” are a common occurrence at City Hall.

The adoption of municipal ordinances as “emergencies” is not a new phenomenon by North Canton City Council. As a former councilmember, I questioned the need to repeatedly adopt legislation using “emergency” measures. This practice, I believe has increased and does not serve the citizens of the community.

For residents who are unfamiliar with the legislative process, the North Canton City Charter states that “…every ordinance shall be fully and distinctly read at three (3) different, regular council meetings unless Council votes to suspend this rule.” Without a suspension of this rule, the normal legislative process spans six weeks. After the third reading and passage by city council, the ordinance is then available for the signature of the Mayor. The ordinance becomes law 30 days after passage on council with or without the signature of the mayor.

The City’s Charter requires the affirmative vote of at least six (6) members of Council to suspend the rule requiring thee readings and allows adoption of the ordinance with just one reading.

The suspension of the rule requiring three readings is generally coupled with passage of an ordinance on an emergency which allows the ordinance to become effective immediately upon approval and signature of the Mayor.

Emergency passage of ordinances also requires the affirmative vote of at least six (6) members of Council and is considered an action that, “…is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety….”

North Canton City Council adopted a total of 105 municipal ordinances in 2010. Ninety-six of those ordinances were adopted as emergencies necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety of North Canton citizens. Seventy-six percent of those ordinances (80 out of 105) were adopted with just one reading. Would citizens have been able to learn of and make comments on proposed legislation before passage with a single reading? I suspect not.

Enacting laws, at any level of government, as emergency legislation as routinely as North Canton City Council has done for years, diminishes the very definition of an emergency.

The greatest impact to the citizenry is the fact that ordinances passed as an emergency preclude a citizen referendum of that ordinance. A referendum is the practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection. It is there for a purpose. It is one of the many checks and balances that are built into our process of government. A referendum protects the public from overzealous legislators and is allowed in 24 states.

The adoption rate of 92% of all North Canton City ordinances, each as an “emergency” is beyond sloppy. It tells the citizens of North Canton that its leaders cannot be bothered with democracy and the law.

I hope North Canton’s elected officials will work harder to represent its citizens in the future and not trample their rights simply for expediency and convenience.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton