Charter review evening public meeting set for Thursday

STEUBENVILLE – The results of six months of meetings, listening to testimony and an often excruciating detailed review of current city charter language and debating proposed changes to the 30-year-old document will be on display at 7 p.m. Thursday when the city’s Charter Review Commission hosts a public session at the Eastern Gateway Community College lecture hall.

The nine-member commission started its work in November and held almost weekly public meetings at the Historic Fort Steuben Visitor Center that saw limited public attendance.

“I don’t think we will have that many people coming to our meetings. My preference is to hold open meetings allowing people to attend and to talk about their ideas. People will have to understand the sole purpose of the commission is to review the charter document,” commission Chairman John J. Mascio said during the November meeting.

Mayor Domenick Mucci appointed the commission members after an extensive search for volunteers who were willing to serve on the panel.

The mayor’s proposed timeline called for all hearings to be completed by this month.

“You may find out the language may be satisfactory. Or you may hear suggestions about changes. This is a review commission. You are not here to change the form of city government,” Mucci told the commission members at their initial meeting in November.

Mucci also said the commission should forward any proposed changes to the city council by July so the proposed changes can appear on the November general election ballot.

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

An evening meeting in February saw the council chambers filled by residents with differing views on charter issues including comments by Fred Walsh, who supported health care benefits for the council members.

“We want to pay for good government. We live in a city that is the most violent community between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Our new council members have a task left to them by their predecessors. If we have good government we should pay for them. We should reward our council members as much as we can,” cited Walsh.

“I think you should have health insurance as an option. And I don’t agree with the term limits. We don’t have people beating down the door to run. If you set term limits in the charter we may have good council members who can’t run. I don’t think that is the proper route to take,” said city resident Jackey Hines.

Mascio will serve as the moderator for the Thursday meeting and will explain the 13 issues proposed for voter ratification in November.

“I’m going to explain where we are in the review process and I will stress this is not a question if you are for or against any proposal. We will be looking for suggestions or recommendations to the proposals. This will not be the forum for a debate. We will have copies of the proposed changes available for everyone who attends the Thursday meeting,” Mascio said.

“Probably the most discussed proposal has been language to allow the city to choose a future police or fire chief from internal and external candidates without an examination. I don’t think changing the acting city manager from the mayor to the city engineer will be a big issue. And, we will announce our decision on compensation and health care benefits for the mayor and City Council members,” continued Mascio.

“I personally think the commission members have done a very good job. We looked at every sentence in the city charter. Some changes weren’t necessary. We felt other changes were needed after discussing the issues and listening to city residents,” noted Mascio.

“We will meet at least one more time following the Thursday meeting to review the comments and check the proposed changes once more. If everything works out we will submit the charter changes to the City Council by the end of May for certification to the Jefferson County Board of Elections,” Mascio explained.

“I didn’t mind serving on the charter review commission. It took a little more time than I anticipated but I think all of us enjoyed doing this. It was doing something for the city,” concluded Mascio.