Two of four charter amendments to be on November ballot

by Laura Bednar

July 12 city council meeting

Independence City Council voted on four charter review commission recommendations to amend the city charter. Two were rejected and two will be submitted to voters in November.

The commission recommended that council terms be raised to four years from two and staggered. Three members would be selected at a general election, and four would be chosen two years later during an off-year election. Council members would also pick the vice mayor, instead of the position going to the highest vote getter.

Vice Mayor Dave Grendel said the change would allow a council member to run for mayor but still have a portion of his or her council term left. This means the person would be running from a “safe seat” and could return to council if they lost the mayoral race.

“One [election] year you are going to have a higher turnout because of the mayoral race, and two years later you are going to have a smaller turnout,” said Councilman Dale Veverka. “Then it goes back to the council deciding who the vice mayor should be, and that then becomes more politically colored for a lack of a better term.”

Councilperson Jim Trakas said, “I think our citizens expect to vote every two years.” He added that staggered terms would allow voters to retain biennial voting, instead of voting every four years for all council members.

The proposal was voted down with Veverka, Anthony Togliatti, Chris Walchanowicz and Tom Narduzzi voting no, and Grendel, Trakas and John DiGeronimo voting yes.

The commission also proposed that the finance director be appointed by the mayor rather than be elected by residents. The appointment would have to be approved by at least five council members.

Finance Director Vern Blaze said the amendment “makes the pool of potential candidates larger than the resident population.”

Narduzzi suggested the finance director be a full-time position. He added that if the resolution passed, “Because of politics, you could lose a good finance director.”

An appointed finance director could be removed from office after approved if five council members vote to do so following a mayoral recommendation.

Blaze added that voting for a finance director offers separation between the finance office and mayor’s office.

During public participation, resident Tim Lesh said he found it insulting “that the position like finance director would be even considered appointed by the mayor and taken away from the voters.”

The amendment failed, with Narduzzi, Togliatti, Veverka and Walchanowicz voting against and Trakas, DiGeronimo and Grendel voting yes.

An amendment voters will see on the ballot is increasing the number of consecutive terms a mayor can serve from two to three. Walchanowicz, DiGeronimo, Narduzzi and Trakas voted in favor and Togliatti, Veverka and Grendel voted against.

The final amendment, which will also reach the ballot, would allow the finance director to make purchases up to $25,000 per department head request. The purchase would be approved by the finance director and mayor without public bidding or council approval. The maximum amount that can be spent currently without public bidding is $15,000.

Four years ago, the maximum was $7,500. Veverka said going from $7,500 to $25,000 in that span is a “pretty dramatic increase.”

Lesh said in the past, there were times the $15,000 limit wasn’t adhered to and nothing happened.

“I think it’s insulting to council that the mayor could spend more than $15,000 and turn around and just give the bill to council, and say ‘Hey pay for it,’” he said.

Veverka and Togliatti voted against; Grendel, Narduzzi, Trakas, DiGeronimo and Walchanowicz voted in favor.

Engineering firm relocates

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, an engineering firm in Valley View, is relocating to a 9,000-square-foot building in Independence. The office will be in suite 300 at 6100 West Creek Rd.

According to a memorandum, the company will occupy the building for at least 10 years and bring with it 18 employees and a payroll of just over $2 million.

Independence will provide the company with a relocation grant of 37.5% of annual payroll taxes for five years. The engineering firm must maintain its payroll for five years after the conclusion of the grant period, according to Economic Development Director Jessica Hyser. ∞