Staggered terms, longer terms on the ballot

While voters have been inundated with information regarding state and national elections, Wapakoneta city residents have two local proposals to consider at the polls this November.

On Nov. 6, voters can cast ballots on one issue to extend the term of Wapakoneta City Council members and the council president to four years from two years and on a second related issue to stagger the council president’s term of office with the mayor as well as the stagger the terms of councilors-at-large with those of ward councilors.

“The idea behind this change to have staggered terms, which is not my idea but is a provision in the Ohio Revised Code, is to keep experienced officials in the government between elections,” Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “This will allow newly elected members to be guaranteed to have some seasoned members to assist them as they get caught up to speed on municipal affairs.  

“Some voters may say that having all city terms of office be four-year terms is a negative, but I think the change will result in constituents getting more work out of their elected officials before the elected officials go into ‘election mode’ again,” the two-term councilor-at-large said.

Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz said he thinks the changes are a good idea, despite the fact the electorate has never voted all councilors out at one time, but “I think it is always a good idea to be proactive instead of reactive.”

He agrees the main benefit would be to “ensure continuity” of the legislative body by having approximately half of council elected at a time as well as other elected city office holders.

Finkelmeier, who proposed the changes at a Wapakoneta City Council meeting on Jan. 9 and vetted them during a special Ad Hoc Committee meetings, based his plan on an idea developed by former Council President Don Jump. Finkelmeier then supported city legislation in February to have the two issues placed on the November ballot in order to maintain “the institutional memory of this legislative body.”

“The primary benefit of staggering the terms is that Wapakoneta would then elect six of its 12 elected officials every two years,” Finkelmeier said. “It will provide stability and predictability to the election cycle. It will keep some experience in the government between elections.

“If the terms are not staggered we will have the same problem that we have now, everyone could be voted out at the same time, it would just be every four years instead of every two,” he said. “I believe that if you do not stagger the terms then there is no point in extending them to four years. The two changes go very much hand in hand.”

Under the staggered term issue, councilors-at-large would be elected in a different odd year than the ward councilors. Councilors discussed maintaining two-year terms and having a group of councilors elected each year, but local office holders cannot be elected during a presidential year, so this forced councilors to propose the four-year terms and to have councilors elected in odd years.

Finkelmeier said councilors also favored the longer terms so they could concentrate more on legislation than campaigning.

Council president also would have his seat staggered with the mayor’s post.

Finkelmeier explained the council president would be elected the same year as councilors representing the wards and the city treasurer.

The local legislator explained these changes would not affect sitting councilors, but if the measure is passed by voters then it would go into effect in 2013.

If voters pass the two issues, the councilors-at-large would be elected to one more two-year term before joining the mayor, auditor and law director in serving four-year terms starting in January 2016 following the election in November 2015.

“This change benefits Wapakoneta residents in the same subtle way homeowner’s insurance benefits a homeowner,” Finkelmeier said. “A home fire or a tornado are actually pretty rare occurrences but can cause catastrophic damage. Thus you purchase home insurance, trading the risk of large loss for a fixed and budgetable cost.

“In the same way, staggering the council terms will insure that experience will always remain in the city government,” he said. “All officials will still be elected by the people, just not all at the same time.”