City charter commission in final debates

STEUBENVILLE – Work on proposed changes to the 30-year-old city charter is starting to wind down as the nine members of the Charter Review Commission prepare to review the tentative changes once more before scheduling an evening public meeting at Eastern Gateway Community College.

Commission Chairman John J. Mascio said the commission will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center to continue a polite debate on how future police and fire chiefs may be chosen.

“After that, we will probably review the document one more time and then schedule an evening meeting. We will schedule that meeting around Easter Week so the public will be able to attend the session. We will take suggestions and comments and meet again for a final discussion before giving our final recommendations to council members to be certified for the November election. We also are considering another evening public meeting after the proposed changes are mailed to every registered voter in the city. That would be more of an explanation so everyone understands the proposed changes to the charter,” explained Mascio.

An informal vote Thursday saw that a majority of the commission members favor allowing outside candidates to apply for a vacancy for the top job in either the police or fire department.

Commission member Jim Mavromatis continued to lobby his colleagues to allow future vacancies for the department chiefs jobs to be open to internal and external candidates.

“You want the best possible candidate for the job. We should give the city the best opportunity to choose a chief. And whatever we decide here will still be approved or disapproved by the voters,” said Mavromatis.

According to Mascio, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228 currently has contractual language requiring the fire chief post must be filled by a fire department candidate.

“I don’t see a problem with the police department because it doesn’t have contract language that prohibits outside candidates. We can do it for the police and look at the fire department,” said Mascio.

“But their contract expires in November. We can include language in the charter allowing outside candidates to apply for the chief’s job and it would be the law if approved by the voters. What I have seen in police departments around the country is tests are required for promotion up to the captain’s rank. The assistant chief or chief is appointed based on experience and qualifications,” countered Mavromatis.

A majority of the commission members agreed Thursday that council members should have the authority to approve a city manager’s choice for the police or fire chief.

The commission members met for 19 minutes in executive session to discuss salaries for the council members and the mayor.

Mascio said the commission will probably discuss its salary recommendation at the public evening meeting at EGCC.

Council members currently receive $3,900 annually while the mayor receives $4,900 a year.

The commission started its review of the charter in November.

The original city charter was approved by voters in 1984 and was reviewed in 1987 and again in 1992.

“Council may adopt a resolution containing changes to the charter and forward the suggested changes to the Jefferson County Board of Elections by August in order to appear on the November general election ballot. A notice of proposed changes should be mailed to city residents by September,” Mayor Domenick Mucci has said.

The commission members heard favorable comments at the conclusion of their Thursday meeting.

“It has been so refreshing to see the transparency here. I think you are doing a fantastic job. You guys are exemplary,” declared city resident Bill Isaac.

“You have given people hope. There is a lot of apathy in this town but you have raised the hopes of the people,” added Teresa DiCarlantonio.