Off and on for the last 30 years in Trumbull County you have heard about ''A Charter Form of Government'' as if it were a singular thing. A charter ... as if all charters are the same and set in stone. People sometimes talk as if they are magical and a cure-all for government.
What is ''a charter?''
In 1912, Ohio adopted a consistent form of operating cities. This ''statutory'' (derived from a state statute) was a one-size-fits-all structure of government for all cities (population over 5,000) that defined the role of the mayor, council, terms in office, etc. All cities had to operate under the statute unless they wrote their own rules (a charter) and adopted them. The state then set rules as to how to write a charter.
So when you ask ''Why do we have 10 council members and a president, while cities 10 times our size have fewer?'' The answer is state statute. Why are there no term limits on the mayor or no education requirement to be our city auditor and handle a $70 million budget? Why must our police and fire chiefs come from current ranks when larger (and smaller) cities hire candidates with long records of accomplishment from outside their cities? Why must we do it this way? State statute is why.
By 2010, nearly 75 percent of Ohio cities have adopted their own charters. They have streamlined, been given options, made choices and taken control of their government on a local level. In order to change one item in the current state statute governing Warren, we would need to get it passed in the state legislature where 75 percent of the lawmakers' constituents did it for themselves. They wrote a charter instead of relying on the state. If you think getting a charter written and passed is tough, try getting a change where 75 percent of the legislators don't care.
There are two ways to start the charter process. First is a referendum signed by 10 percent of the voters in Warren. The second is the City Council passes an ordinance putting it on the ballot. In either case, 15 people must be elected to form a charter commission that listens to the voters and writes the rules by which the government operates. Once completed, the voters must ratify the charter by once again voting on it.
I have heard time and again ''What will be in the charter? Will these charter commission members represent me?'' There are only two ways to be sure of the answers to both. The first is vote, the second is show up. Show up for council and commission meetings, talk to people, find good candidates for the charter commission and participate.
Charters are not perfect. Most offer the opportunity to review the charter from time to time. Cortland is reviewing its charter now to see how to improve it. Charter still means you must select good candidates to govern.
This may be the only time in Warren residents' lives where they can restructure their government. They can determine what it looks like, how top heavy it is, how qualified candidates are. If I sound like a proponent of a charter, I am.
Warren City Council will soon have the chance to let residents vote on a charter, or take that vote away. They soon will vote to determine if residents can choose charter, or status quo. I encourage residents to call them and make their feelings known.
Crouse is the chair of the Citizens Ad Hoc Charter Committee 2010.