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Manager is not the problem, East Palestine's charter is

April 4, 2012
Morning Journal News

While it's no secret that at least two East Palestine council members would like to fire Village Manager Gary Clark, council may want to focus its attention on making changes to the current village charter before taking any action.

Firing the village manager under the provisions of the current document appears to be a difficult if not impossible, with the advantages decidedly in favor of the manager, an appointed employee, rather than council members, who are elected.

For example, five of the six members of village council must vote to fire the manager, not just a simple majority. Ordinances for most municipalities require a simple majority of council for passage.

If the manager has served six months or more, a majority of council members must vote to approve a preliminary resolution which "must state the reasons for removal ..." The resolution must be "delivered promptly to the manager" and within five days of that delivery, the manager may file a written request for a "public hearing." The manager may also file a written reply to the reasons for removal contained in the resolution, not later than five days before the hearing.

Employees in the private sector, even corporate CEOs, are rarely afforded these privileges when facing removal from their jobs, and they are almost never given a specific reason because it can be used as the basis for a lawsuit. Why should the village's charter make it so difficult to fire a manager?

Municipalities which have charter government are traditionally operated with a strong manager/weak council format. The manager is a paid full-time professional who is entrusted to run the municipality much like a business. But East Palestine's charter, which predates the current village manager, appears to have been written by a city manager and definitely swings the advantages to the person in the manager's seat.

Since the charter was approved by East Palestine voters, any changes would have to be put before voters as well.

We're not saying that council should remove Gary Clark, that's not our point. But council may want to consider appointing a new charter commission which could recommend changes that would realign the balance of power in the town. Voters could then decide if the manager should have this much power and job protection.



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