HUBER HEIGHTS — Huber Heights residents overwhelmingly showed support in the May primary election for a part of the city’s charter that calls for the city manager to live in the city. Now city council has to figure out what to do about it.
City resident Dan White spoke at Monday’s city council meeting, challenging council to enforce the charter. The charter says the city manager must live in the city, but the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that cities cannot force employees to live inside the city limits.
White said he felt it was city’s council’s responsibility to find a way to enforce the will of the voters.
“I have documentation from other cities in this state that require high level officials, senior executives, CEOs, department heads, that require them to live in the city,” White said. “I believe our city manager fits that bill.”
White said he has nothing against current City Manager Rob Schommer, but that it is time for the city to follow the charter.
“You were empowered to do the will of the charter,” White said to council members. “Why would we have it documented in the city charter if we’re not going to follow it?”
Mayor Tom McMasters agreed with White and said council needs to take up the issue at its next work session. He said council’s first step should be to tell Schommer he needs to comply with the charter and that six months would be a fair amount of time for him to relocate. Schommer lives in Butler Township.
Council Member Ed Lyons then asked Law Director Jerry McDonald for his opinion on the issue.
“The courts have spoken on this issue,” McDonald said. “We would not be able to enforce that provision of the charter.”
Council Member Janell Smith asked, “If we knew it was unconstitutional before we put it on the ballot, why on Earth would the city allow it to go to the ballot?”
McDonald said, “We have a provision that is not enforceable, it makes sense to get an unenforceable provision out of the charter so that we don’t have to deal with situations like this where citizens come in good faith and say, ‘Our charter says this, why don’t we enforce it?’ Then we have to go through and explain the state of Ohio has tied our hands.” But, he said, “Unfortunately, it went to a vote and it didn’t pass.”
“The fundamental issue behind the whole thing is do we have the authority to require an employee to live in the city given this statue and the answer is no we don’t, we no longer have that authority,” he said.
But McMasters wasn’t convinced.
He said the state legislature has not clearly defined “employee” and that there are questions about elected officials and higher city officials and how they are viewed.
Both McMasters and White cited Cincinnati, where the city’s senior executive officers are required to live in the city.
“Once the election results are certified, it’s then up to council to figure out what to do,” McMasters said. “I believe the charter is obvious in what we have to do and I have not heard anything from my lawyer that changes my mind that the city of Cincinnati’s lawyers are more correct in their opinions,” McMasters said.
“There are many different ways to approach it but I think our first start would be to assume that right now we go under the impression that our residents want it enforced and we give Mr. Schommer that six months’ notice that we expect he would become a resident while we actually discuss how to go about it,” he said.
McDonald said he would be prepared at the next work session to present options that the city could pursue. Council’s next scheduled work session is scheduled for June 6 at 6 p.m. at city hall.
Reach Dave Lindeman at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @HH_Courier.