Questions raised and answered about city council procedures

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(Posted June 28, 2019)

By Andrew Garrett, Staff Writer

London city council adopted nine ordinances and resolutions at its regular meeting on June 20. Of these, all but one was passed with an “emergency” clause or suspension of the three-reading rule municipal councils customarily use when introducing and passing new legislation.

This hastening of the legislative process, while often necessary due to time constraints (for example, moving money from one budgetary line to another to pay the city’s bills on time), has led some city residents to question its frequency and call out a council member on social media.

Council member Rex Castle said he was titled “King of the Emergencies” earlier in the week by members of a London-themed Facebook group. Castle explained that as head of the city’s finance committee, he often is tasked with sponsoring proposed legislation and sometimes with the emergency clause because time is of the essence.

“We have to use a little common sense here and not put the cart before the horse,” he said.

None of the council members who voted to suspend the three-reading rule felt it was an abuse of power. Most said they see it as a tool to expedite the necessary work of the city, such as the resolution they passed to finance storm sewer repairs and construct a storm water vault to prevent flooding, using money from the city’s storm water utility fund.

Speaking to the utility of invoking the emergency clause in this instance–at a location where the city is already doing work and has the equipment at the ready–Castle said, “It’s going to cost you more money to bring the equipment back out there. What we are trying to do is save the city money by using an emergency.”

The one piece of legislation that did get three readings came with its own amount of controversy.

An ordinance establishing the boundaries of a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) was up for a second reading and vote as an emergency at the June 6 meeting but stalled when council member Henry Comer presented a series of printouts taken from the Internet discussing the possible pitfalls of the Community Reinvestment Act, a different program also known as a CRA.

David Kell, executive director of the Madison County Chamber Commerce and the Madison County Future, attended the June 20 council meeting to explain the difference between a Community Reinvestment Area and the Community Reinvestment Act.

According to Kell and a state-sponsored website he cited, “The Ohio Community Reinvestment Area program is an economic development tool administered by municipal and county government that provides real property tax exemptions for property owners who renovate existing or construct new buildings. Community Reinvestment Areas are areas of land in which property owners can receive tax incentives for investing in real property improvements.”

Essentially, the city will be designating different areas to administer tax incentives to business owners or developers.  Kell mentioned a number of municipalities throughout the state that are successfully taking advantage of the program.

Kell also mentioned that the need for housing was great within the city and would only become greater in the future.

The city will have complete local control over the program, and individual agreements within the Community Reinvestment Area can be terminated or altered as necessary, Kell said.

This is the program outlined in the legislation that was before council.

What Comer argued against at the June 6 meeting was the Community Reinvestment Act, Kell said. The Community Reinvestment Act is a law intended to encourage depository institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods–a completely different program than the Community Reinvestment Area.

Once the difference was pointed out, Comer said he had not been fully educated in the matter because it had been presented to him on short notice.

Mayor Patrick Closser challenged that notion, saying council members are responsible for doing their research prior to coming to meetings, adding that agendas with new legislation are posted to the city’s website and made available days in advance of council meetings.

Council member Anthony Smith expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation when he said, “I think it’s sad that it (the CRA legislation) really got held up for two more weeks because an individual researched a completely different program.”

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