Findlay City Council should think twice before declaring ordinances or resolutions as “emergency” legislation.
Fast-tracking legislation can speed up the often routine work of city government. But it can also shortchange the public and prevent citizens from weighing in on expenditures, salary increases, or other matters that affect them.
Laws passed in a hurry are not subject to referendum, an important tool for citizens to use if a council-approved ordinance or resolution goes too far.
Since taxpayers are footing the bill, they should always have the right to know what officials are doing before action is taken, not after.
The Courier’s Joy Brown reported Saturday that emergency legislation has become all too common in city government.
Of 136 ordinances and resolutions approved last year, 81 of them, or 60 percent, were approved at the same meeting at which they were introduced. Meanwhile, council passed just 20, or 14 percent, with three readings, which gives the public the opportunity to study and comment on them.
Council must have the ability to move certain types of legislation quickly and efficiently. But fast-tracking bills should not be the default whenever a resolution or ordinance is introduced.
Ordinances typically involve the regulation of the conduct of citizens and others subject to city control, and are intended to be permanent. Examples are criminal and traffic law, employee salaries and benefits, fees, zoning changes, annexations, plat approvals, and bonding legislation.
Resolutions are usually less formal and not prescribing any permanent rules of conduct. Examples are authorizing bidding for the purchase of equipment/vehicles, contracts with consultants for a specific project, agreements with other governmental agencies, and authorizing city funding for other agencies.
The course of action for a resolution or an ordinance is for it to be introduced and given three readings. Council can vote, however, to suspend the three-reading rule and adopt the measure at one meeting.
Some legislation is introduced as “add-ons,” a term administrators use for items inserted into the council’s agenda at the last minute.
Either way can mean a matter can come up for discussion at a council meeting and be passed the same night, before the public has even been made aware of it.
The main problem is there is not enough advance notice when emergency legislation, or plans to hurry a bill’s passage, is put on City Council’s agenda. The agenda is commonly released the day before council’s regular Tuesday meetings.
Administrators must do a better job informing the public what it can expect to come before council. In addition, they should work to make the use of emergency legislation and last-minute add-ons an exception rather than the rule.
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