PIQUA — A local resident is gathering signatures to place a petition on the November General Election ballot to abolish the city of Piqua’s charter and to adopt the general statutory form of city government under the Ohio Revised Code.
Piqua resident Bill Jaqua, who also manages Heritage Event & Catering in Piqua, said he is seeking to have it removed in order to increase participation and accountability of city’s government, as well as giving residents more control over choosing city officials.
Jaqua is currently circulating a petition to have the following issue placed on the November ballot: “Shall the Charter of the City of Piqua and its amendments be abolished effective November 3, 2021 and the city of Piqua be governed pursuant to the statutory general plan form of government under revised code chapter 731.” Jaqua’s petition will need to be signed by 1,250 registered voters in Piqua by August.
Jaqua said the statutory form of government in the Ohio Revised code “imposes democracy on a city,” which Jaqua believes is missing from Piqua’s system.
“Our city government is controlled by a very select few people,” Jaqua said.
The Piqua City Commission is currently made up of five representatives, one from each ward in the city of Piqua. Elected commissioners serve a term of four years. Commissioner elections are held in November in odd numbered years, and the seats are contested on alternating years so not all of commissioners’ terms expire at the same time. Commissioners from ward 1 ward 2, and ward 5 were recently elected in 2019. Commissioners from ward 3 and ward 4 will be up for election again in 2021 if the form of government remains the same.
In order to be elected, the candidates for the commission have to petition residents within their ward to have their names placed on the ballot of an election year where the seat of their respective ward is contested. Once the candidates for the commission are on the ballot, every eligible voter within the city has the opportunity to vote on each of the commissioners, not just the ones from their ward. Commission elections are also nonpartisan in Piqua.
“The charter allows a small group of people to get a hold of your city government, and it excludes … the general population in general,” Jaqua said.
Jaqua also proposed this change as a way to boost participation in local government, even though there were three seats open on the commission in 2019 and the commissioners who were elected all ran unopposed for their seats. Piqua voters also had a low turnout in 2019. According to the Miami County Board of Elections, there were approximately 12,245 registered voters in Piqua who were eligible to vote during the 2019 election, but there were only 1,627 ballots cast.
According to Jaqua, it’s the city of Piqua’s charter form of government that is responsible for making residents and voters “apathetic.”
“That’s the nature of a charter government,” Jaqua said. “What happens in our charter government is that … over the years, there is very little participation in our city. There is very little political participation in our city. And we just replaced three city commissioners. All three ran unopposed. That’s pathetic.”
Jaqua added later that the current system “doesn’t empower anybody” and “is not designed for participation.”
An example Jaqua used was the position of mayor. While residents elect the city commissioners, they no longer choose the mayor. Due to a city charter amendment approved by over 60 percent of voters in 2016, the commission now elects one of the sitting commissioners as mayor. The commission appoints the mayor and vice mayor during its first meeting in January every two years.
This charter amendment was first implemented in 2018, at which time Kazy Hinds, former mayor and current fifth ward commissioner, was appointed the mayor. Hinds was re-elected in November 2019 to the fifth ward commissioner seat on the commission after running unopposed. Hinds was eligible to be appointed as mayor again this year, but Mayor Kris Lee was appointed after receiving the nomination from the commission.
Under a statutory system, residents would go back to having the opportunity to vote on the mayor. Jaqua use the city of Troy as an example, which has a council of nine members. The mayor, city treasurer, auditor, and law director are also all elected officials.
Under Ohio Revised Code Title VII, one of the options for forming the legislative authority dictates there has to be at least seven representatives, including four representatives elected by wards and three elected by electors of the city at-large. For the first 20,000 inhabitants, in addition to the original 5,000, “there shall be two additional members of such legislative authority, elected by wards.”
Under this charter system, there would also not be a city manager position, but the commission would be able to hire a director of Public Service and Safety, who would operate as the chief administrator for the city.
Jaqua is also presenting this idea as a way to hold the local government accountable, such as with city projects and economic initiatives.
“There is no accountability in our charter system,” Jaqua said.
Jaqua used the Fort Piqua Plaza and its renovation as an example, saying, “that’s really when this rift started.”
“Instead of people concentrating on infrastructure like water and water plants, we spent a fortune on renovating a hotel so we would have a nice restaurant downtown,” Jaqua said.
In regard to public projects, such as the city’s new $34 million Water Treatment Plant and the Wastewater Treatment Plant that is nearing the end of its $40 million renovation, Jaqua believed the city was taking on too much debt that residents will be paying for in the years to come.
When asked if he believed the work to the treatment plants was necessary, Jaqua said, “Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think we should have combined with Troy. My only problem with the water system is this little group of people, they kept kicking the can down the road until it got to the point that we had no choice but to have massive increases in our water rates, and that’s what we have right now.”
Jaqua said he did not think the statutory system would solve all problems, but he said the decision regarding the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure “would have been more inclusive and made by a bigger group of people.” He went on to say, “There would have been more discussion and more debate about the appropriate course to take. At the same time, it would have prevented little special interests from having their say-so.”