Dayton City Charter Proposals: the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

by | Mar 23, 2021 | Elections | 0 comments

The City of Dayton has proposed several key amendments to the city charter that will appear on the ballot in May. Most of these changes are ones that are easy to support, but a couple should be looked at with greater scrutiny. The biggest problem with these amendments is that they will appear on the ballot in May. There are only special elections in May if there are enough candidates for city offices to warrant a primary and very low turnout. We oppose this special election/primary because it is undemocratic and only about 10% of the electorate participates. That would be a poor way to determine which amendments to the city charter should be approved. We have proposed eliminating the special election/primary and replacing it with a ranked-choice voting system, but doing that would require a charter amendment that won’t be fast-tracked like these proposed amendments. We have to do things the old fashioned way: collect a bunch of signatures. The amendments that will appear on the ballot this year were all suggested by a charter review committee specifically set up by the city to review the charter and suggest changes.

New Hiring Practice for Police & Firefighters: Good

Dayton currently has a strange policy called “rule of one,” where police and firefighters are hired purely based on their exam scores. As anyone who has been responsible for hiring can tell you, this is not an ideal method for determining whom to employ. This is especially true for police and firefighters because these professions require skills that are not easily tested through traditional exams. If the top test taker is also trigger happy and unnecessarily escalates situations to violent outcomes, they are probably not well suited to be a police officer.

The primary concern with the “rule of one” is that it led to a disproportionately white police force. While we believe that this is a valid concern, the policy wouldn’t make sense even if this were not the case. An ideal candidate for any job is more than their GPA, test scores, or credentials. The interview process allows an employer to dig deeper and really get to know a potential employee and identify skills or weaknesses that may not appear on a resume.

The goal of “rule of one” is actually a noble one. The requirement was clearly implemented as a way to prevent discrimination, but in practice the rule does not fulfill its intent. It may in fact just make discrimination worse.

We wholly endorse this charter change and we encourage voters to go to the polls to ensure that it becomes codified into law. However, we believe there is another elephant in the room that this doesn’t address, which is Dayton’s refusal to laterally hire without the demeaning process of going back through their academy. Unless Dayton opens their academies to train any police or firefighter in the region and make money, we believe it’s time to evaluate the value of these operations.

Changes to Commissioner and Mayor Compensation: Bad

Originally the charter review commission considered suggesting that the mayor become a full-time position, but this failed to gain the support of a majority of the commission despite public support from review commission member Mohamed Al-Hamdani and outgoing mayor Nan Whaley. In its place the commission came up with an amendment that would change the way that the mayor and commissioners are paid. Instead of having a compensation committee selected by the commissioners to determine their salaries, this new amendment would just tie their salaries to the county commissioner salaries. The mayor’s salary will be 75% of a county commissioner’s salary while a city commissioner’s salary will be 50%. This would result in a significant raise for the mayor and a modest one for the commissioners.

In reality, commissioners, by law, are supposed to serve as a board of directors and only have to attend one meeting a week. The true power is supposed to be in the hands of the city manager (the city’s CEO) and they are supposed to be the highly paid leader. It’s the city manager, not the mayor who should hold the spotlight.

If you have been following Reconstructing Dayton, you may be aware that we have publicly advocated for increased salaries for public officials. But we also believe that more money should come with strings attached. Dayton’s population has steadily declined for the past sixty years so the city commission has been increasingly responsible for a smaller and smaller city. We believe that their compensation should be directly tied to population to 1) reflect the amount of responsibility of the commissioners and 2) motivate them to increase the size of the city by any means possible.

Here’s a better formula: A Dayton city commissioner should earn a salary equal to the amount a county commissioner makes per citizen. For example, in 2018 the county commissioners made $96,000 for a population of 531,687. Considering Dayton’s population of 140,407, that makes for a salary of $25,351. If we stopped treating the suburbs as separate cities and merged the various cities that compose the Dayton metropolitan area, the commissioners would make a decent salary. Tying regionalism to city commission salaries would be an ideal way to motivate our city commission to work to unify and strengthen Dayton.

The other option is to tie their salary to the average income of their citizens. There is no reason a part time job should pay more, or have better benefits than the average Daytonian working a full time job. Think about it.

Vote no on this.

Remove Political Restrictions for City Employees: Good & Bad

This amendment would allow city employees to engage in political activity except when that activity involves campaigns for City of Dayton politicians. When Mohamed Al-Hamdani went to the press to publicly promote this idea, we wrote an extended piece examining the implications. We’re glad that the exceptions are included in this amendment but we believe that there needs to be more. City and county politics are often intertwined and that leaves the door open to undue pressure. We also believe that there needs to be an exception for when a city employee runs for a higher office. For example, when Nan Whaley ran for governor it would not have been appropriate for city employees to work on her campaign. It sounds like this amendment will not bar that type of activity, so voters should reject it. Removing political restrictions for municipal employees can be a good thing if it’s limited to national and state elections where their bosses have no vested interest in the outcome. We’ll have to look at the final language of the amendment, but it sounds like this one allows for some dangerous loopholes.

We’re also a big believer that when you work in government, you stop being a D or R, you now work for everyone. We believe that while you can participate in activities such as political party organizing and education, you should be banned from holding partisan precinct captain positions. These positions vote on endorsements and filling partisan office vacancies like the County offices, as well as hiring of the BOE personnel.

Privatization of Water & Infrastructure: Ugly
Good

This amendment will remove the following language from the charter: “Such resources and infrastructure, within the city of Dayton municipal boundaries shall not be sold, leased or transferred into private ownership.” This is a sneaky amendment because it will probably play into voters’ concerns about recent boil advisories in the city caused by some water main leaks. This amendment has the distinct smell of a backroom deal. Someone will profit handsomely if it passes, and they probably are the people who will OK the deal.

We don’t believe in privatization of public schools, public infrastructure, or small jurisdictions owning regional assets (like airports or convention centers that were paid for with public money). We also don’t believe in taxpayers funding private sports teams facilities, but, that’s not on the ballot—or is it? Could this really just be a ploy to giveaway the Dragon’s Ballpark?

Your author misread the information pertaining to this amendment. The amendment proposes to add this language to the charter, not remove it. The amendment will therefore prevent the city from being able to privatize utilities, which is a good thing.

Summary

Vote YES for new hiring practices for firefighters and police, vote YES for keeping utilities public.

Vote NO on everything else.

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