By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
When Mathew Davoli proposed allowing write-in candidates in local elections, he didn’t consider what would happen if a cartoon character won a seat on Fostoria City Council.
But when questioned by his fellow members of council Tuesday about the possibility of joke candidates receiving real votes, his solution was simple — let someone else worry about it.
“Suppose, just on a fluke, Mickey Mouse does win a seat as a write-in. What do we do then?” asked At-large Councilman Doug Pahl.
“Well, I guess that the board of elections would figure that out,” said Davoli, an at-large councilman.
While Davoli’s response was met with jeering laughter from those in attendance, the silly exchange reflected genuine concerns regarding the proposed change to the city charter.
“If you were going to run for a seat, why wouldn’t you be out campaigning?” asked Councilwoman Paula Dillon (Ward 1). “Why would you wait until November? Then someone pops up and the public doesn’t hear their views or opinions. I just don’t think that’s right.”
Davoli received no support from his peers Tuesday night as the four members in attendance declined to even give the measure a first reading. Councilmen Greg Flores (Ward 2) and Jon Hay (Ward 3) were both absent from the meeting.
Defending his proposal, Davoli said allowing write-ins for primary and general elections would create more competition by cutting down on the number of unopposed elections.
“I just want to give people the opportunity to be write-in candidates if they so choose,” he said. “There have been times in the past where people have run unopposed and people would have liked the idea to write in a candidate.”
However, his fellow councilmembers said letting people enter the election cycle late in the game would leave the public susceptible to potentially having candidates they know nothing about.
“I don’t think write-in candidates solve the ‘running unopposed’ problem,” said At-large Councilman Brian Shaver. “I think it just allows for the Johnny Come Latelys to make a sneak at the end.”
Tom Lake, the city’s 4th Ward representative since 2003, said a candidate running without opposition is often a sign of trust and confidence from the public.
“Usually (candidates) run unopposed because the people see the person is doing a good job and don’t have competition,” Lake said. “If the person isn’t doing a good job, they’re going to have someone run against them. That’s just the way the system works.”
Council also axed a second charter change requested by Davoli, one which called for reducing the terms of the council president and ward representatives from four years to two.
Davoli said having all members of council serve two-year terms would hold them more accountable to the people who elect them.
Speaking as a citizen, Law Director Tim Hoover said he would be concerned both write-in candidates and shorter terms would open the door to endless campaigns, “cronies,” and “people we don’t want in our government.”
“Anybody can run, you just have to follow the system like everybody else,” Hoover said. “Get your petitions, and get on the ballot on a timely manner for the primary.”
Several members of the community urged council to reject Davoli’s proposed changes to the charter, including the always-outspoken critic of the young councilman, Greg Cassidy.
“I would encourage council to vote this stuff down, and appoint appropriate committees to in-depth examine some of these issues and what the ramifications are going to be down the road,” Cassidy said. “I wish Mr. Davoli would kind of bring things up to speed and focus on some of the real major issues at hand instead of wasting council’s time.”
Mayor Eric Keckler has previously said he plans on forming an ad-hoc committee to look into the viability of various changes to the charter, including those proposed by Davoli.
This was not the first time council was quick to ground sweeping changes to the charter. At the Jan. 3 meeting, the group declined to read three amendments proposed by Davoli, including one which would have given council greater control over the structure of the city’s safety forces.
According to the current draft of the charter, council cannot abolish the city’s police or fire departments “unless authorized by a majority vote of the people of the city of Fostoria.” The proposed amendment would have stricken that rule.
Davoli has advocated for examining different ways to operate Fostoria Fire Division, including looking at a volunteer fire department — a move currently prohibited by the charter.
Fostoria Firefighter Warren Digby was in attendance Tuesday night and said the citizens of Fostoria previously voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of protecting the city’s safety forces from being abolished.
Digby said asking voters to undo what they did several years ago would be a waste of time and effort, as well as a waste of the money it would take to put the measure back on the ballot.
“They wanted that ordinance in there. They passed it overwhelmingly,” Digby said. “I think to keep bringing it back up and trying to get it back on there is a waste of time and effort for the city. We got bigger fish to fry.”
Also at the meeting, Fostorian Jonathan Puffenberger praised Fostoria’s street and water departments for their efforts to help keep citizens safe, and condemned any cost-saving ideas to privatize the city’s water services.
“I don’t have to remind you how crucial it is to have a reliable and safe source of drinking water,” Puffenberger said. “An obvious example of what can go wrong in something like this is the city of Flint, Michigan.”
Because many of the people who work for Fostoria Water Department live in the city, Puffenberger said he trusts them to maintain “the standards of quality necessary for us to continue to have a reliable and safe water supply.”
“I don’t necessarily trust a corporation from outside that comes in that may cut corners in an effort to save money, and put our health at risk,” he said. “I want our local tax money to stay here locally, to support the community and to support good jobs.”
In other business, council gave a first reading to an ordinance creating a handicapped parking space at 331 N. Union St.
Also, city Auditor Steve Garner delivered his financial report for the end of fiscal year 2016.
As of Dec. 31, the general fund was operating with a balance of -$696,389.37. In the middle of last year, Garner predicted the general fund would end 2016 with a deficit of about $700,000.
The next meeting of Fostoria City Council will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.