Controversial rule change pulled from the agenda at Dayton City Commission meeting
The proposed rule would have changed the procedure for drafting city legislation.
The Dayton City Commission was packed last Thursday night because of a controversial resolution. The resolution (No. 6633-22) would have increased the support required for legislation to be drafted by the city’s law department from two commissioners to three.
WYSO's Chris Welter spoke with All Things Considered host Jerry Kenney about the controversy surrounding the proposed rule change.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Jerry Kenney: a controversial resolution was pulled from the agenda at the Dayton City Commission meeting last night. WYSO reporter Chris Welter has been reporting on the resolution and was there at the meeting. Chris, can you tell us what was going on there?
Chris Welter: Yeah, sure, Jerry. So the commission was considering a resolution that would have changed the rules for how legislation gets passed. The resolution would have increased how much support commissioners need from one another for legislation to be drafted by the city's law department. It would have required three of the five commissioners, instead of just two, to indicate support for a proposed piece of legislation before it could be drafted, and drafting legislation is a really important step in the legislative process. It's how a city ordinance goes from being an idea in a commissioner's head to being put down on paper and being legally vetted by the city attorney. That drafted ordinance is what can then be put on the agenda and can be voted on and can be publicly debated.
Kenney: So what was the controversy?
Welter: Boy, where where to begin?
So Mayor Mims said the rule changes were intended to prevent the law department from overusing its limited resources on drafting legislation that may never pass.
The idea is that if a piece of legislation only has two votes before it goes through the law department. It might not get that additional third vote by the time it gets through. On a larger scale, Mims is worried about staff capacity right now and the city's budget moving forward. It's estimated the city can lose anywhere from $7 to $22 million a year in tax revenue because of remote work during the pandemic and since 80 percent of people that work in Dayton don't live in Dayton, they lost a bunch of income tax when people were working from home.
But the two newest commissioners, Darryl Fairchild and Shenise Turner-Sloss, have concerns about the rule changes, even though they did both acknowledge that there are staffing capacity concerns. Fairchild and Turner-Sloss are kind of seen as being outside the establishment. They weren't endorsed by the Montgomery County Democratic Party in November, and the county party also released some attack ads against them. But they still won, and they're now working with three other commissioners who were endorsed by the county party.
Fairchild has been on the commission since 2018, but Turner-Sloss just started in January, so they thought the timing of the rule change, that would have changed the way they had to draft legislation, was a bit suspicious. They thought that potentially it was an attempt from the other members on the commission to limit the amount of legislation that they could get on the agenda for a public vote.
Fairchild was also concerned that the new rule actually may have been illegal under Ohio's sunshine or public meeting laws.
Kenney: And how did the meeting itself go?
Welter: Well, the commission chambers were packed and a petition circulated online calling for supporters of Turner-Sloss and Fairchild to show up to the meeting to voice their concerns about the rule, and people certainly showed up.
So Mayor Mims decided to start the meeting by talking about team building, why it's so important to his position, his own background as a veteran, as an educator, and how he saw that as a big part of his role as mayor to build the team on the commission. He then said that in the spirit of team building, he was going to make a motion to pull the resolution from the agenda. The motion passed and all five of the commissioners voted to pull the resolution, which effectively puts it on ice for the foreseeable future.
Commissioner Turner-Sloss said after that that she was ready to move on from the controversy and get working on other, more important issues in the city.
Shenise Turner-Sloss: We are at a critical point in the city of Dayton. We're dealing with a number of challenges. We have a high poverty rate. We're still dealing with the challenges and the impact of COVID 19. There are many people in our community that are unhoused that are under underemployed, unemployed.
Welter: And then Commissioner Chris Shaw said that he also thought it was a good thing to put the resolution on ice so they can move forward as a team.
Chris Shaw: I look forward to the opportunity to just have a reset on this commission and build some better trust.
Kenney: So what are the takeaways from this controversy?
Welter: Well, I think the big thing is that the city of Dayton is facing a budget crisis, and they're really concerned about staff capacity because of the way this income tax has changed. Mayor Mims just got back from the Council of Mayors in D.C. where he was talking to people all around the country about this issue. So that's going to be something to look at moving forward.
I think also Mims wants to move past the election. He wants to move past the attack ads. He wants to move past that campaigning and try to get things done for the city of Dayton.
I think the last thing is that Turner-Sloss and Fairchild are the newest commissioners, and they're trying to figure out how things work and make sure that they're having their voices heard.
Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.