Columbus Metropolis Council left mayor’s finances an emergency measure

0
270

After tense police battles with protesters and rioters against racial injustice last summer, Columbus City Council appeared ready to cut budgets for the police division this year after numerous people testified at hearings that they wanted to divert police spending into social programs .

Five out of seven city council members supported a budget change this year to cut $ 2.5 million – about 0.7% of the divisions’ budget of $ 336.8 million – for various purposes. But council chairman Shannon Hardin complained on Monday that he did not have the necessary votes to pass the amended budget.

That’s because the ordinance has been labeled an “emergency,” a maneuver that the city often uses to enforce laws faster. However, for an “emergency” measure to be passed, six of the seven councilors must support it, or an 86% majority. That’s more unanimity than the two-thirds it takes the US Senate to convict a US president during impeachment.

How likely is it that an emergency measure will be adopted?

Despite the tougher odds, the city council often approves “emergency” measures. A review of the city records by The Dispatch found that the council declared more than 1,400 of them in the last year alone, representing more than 68% of the 2,078 ordinances it had before it.

Most ordinances are drafted by departments under the mayor, and “the council generally has no preference” as to whether the administration calls them emergencies, said Lee Cole, city council spokeswoman.

“The writer determines the name,” said Cole. In the case of Mayor Andrew Ginther’s budgetary measure, it was the mayor’s office that designated the budget law as an “emergency” that had to be approved by a city council super-major.

The city council could remove the emergency designation for the budget measure, but it would have taken more time for the budget to become law – something Hardin was unwilling to do because it would delay funding for other city programs.

Some urban “emergency” laws seem far from a public crisis:

  • Do you need an urban lot on 539 S Everett Ave. sell to MLS Construction Services for $ 3,945 to build a new single family home? The measure is called an emergency “to reduce the maintenance costs of the land bank”.
  • Do you need to get a five-year contract and pay $ 12,000 first to buy city worker COTA bus passes? It is an emergency “to ensure continued participation in the program without interruption”.

And 2020 was no accident: since at least 2016, there has been a similar percentage of “emergency measures” every year, according to city records, which would seemingly put thousands of pieces of legislation at risk of being shot down by a minority two-vote.

There are so many routine emergencies that one might think that city law, much like its constitution, had used the term frivolously. However, it explicitly defines emergencies as actions that are necessary “for the immediate maintenance of public peace, property, health or safety”. The city writers threw in a catch: or “an emergency in the normal day-to-day operations of an urban department”.

“We are not aware of any judicial opinions on what constitutes an emergency,” said Faith Oltman, spokeswoman for prosecutor Zach Klein, adding that any advice he gives the advice is protected by attorney privilege. However, the office advises “that there should be reasons for drafting regulations”.

For a democratically controlled body that is largely in agreement on almost everything, it was no problem until Monday to need two additional votes to get things done.

There was the advice It is planned to vote on the emergency handover of the city’s general fund budget of more than $ 970 million with a change that would have cut $ 2.5 million from the police division and delayed the new police officer recruitment class due to begin this summer.

“I can’t remember a time when we failed the emergency (the budget as an emergency). It’s such a big, important piece every year that a broad consensus among the members has always been seen as positive,” Councilor Elizabeth Brown said chairwoman of the finance committee, which backed the $ 2.5 million cut. “Obviously this year has thwarted that assumption.”

Where should the money in the budget go and the conflict that follows

Hardin had previously announced that he would use the budget to stop hiring new officials until a new boss was installed and a review of previous public safety hiring practices was completed. He also announced the creation of four new city funds: for COVID response, family support, economic recovery and small business support, and public safety redesign.

The first three funds would be fully funded with USD 10 million from the a Between April and December, the State Bureau of Workers Compensation received a discount of more than $ 100.4 millionmost of which legally flowed into the general fund.

Despite the windfall, the Reimagining Safety Fund was slated to provide $ 7.5 million from the basic fund for city services and the remaining $ 2.5 million from police recruitment from class funds.

The surprised police division held a press conference the same day that Hardin announced that the council would be shed nearly a year of work and that the 45 recruits selected were remembered as one of the most diverse classes of new civil servants.

But the February 11 vote on Hardin’s amendment should have caused trouble: Councilors Mitchell Brown, a former city public safety director, and Priscilla Tyson opposed it. Hardin needed one of them to change his mind and cross the emergency threshold. However, the contingency plan went ahead.

It never had to come to that. Regulations not passed in an emergency only require four votes, provided that they are “read” in two sessions before a vote takes place, which requires at least an additional week in advance. Then, if approved, they will have to wait 30 days before they take effect.

The Council could have set a different timetable, including the implementation of a budget by early January. But it was adjourned for most of the month.

Hardin: The training of the police academy has to be improved before new employees can be hired

Hardin declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story as to why he chose to stick with the term “emergency” for the budget approval.

When Hardin announced at Monday’s meeting that the $ 2.5 million would be put back into the police division and the new class of recruits would continue, he said he was unwilling to spend other city spending for the additional 30 days that came up At the end of March it is necessary to leave the budget normal passage. This could affect the search for a new police chief, youth programs – even the payment of telephone bills.

Hardin also said it was the training the new recruits would receive at the police training academy that concerned the council. The program needs improvement, such as “a more diverse police academy staff” adding diversity and bias training to the curriculum and examining ongoing training needs for all officers.

Council spokeswoman Cole said the budget process would begin when the mayor chartered a budget proposal by November 15 each year. The Council then holds a series of public hearings in November and December, which must be interrupted between the holidays to slow the process down.

“We believe it is worth taking the time to review and get public input,” said Cole of the overall fund budget.

However, after those hearings, the council adjourned from December 14th to January 25th, or six weeks, and ultimately made no changes to the mayor’s proposed budget other than adding the four new funds, now fully funded by the state BWC windfall are covered.

[email protected]

@ReporterBush