STOW -- If there is to be a safety forces council of governments between Stow and several other area communities, City Council will have a say in how it operates.
Council unanimously approved an ordinance Jan. 12 that grants itself the right to approve the COG's bylaws.
However, before doing so, Council also approved an amendment that removes a requirement that Council approve any amendments to the bylaws and instead only requires that Council "receive 30 days advance written notice of proposed changes to the bylaws"
Council President Mike Rasor, who made a motion to approve the amendment during Council's regular meeting, said "There's a concern that if City Council has to adopt any amendment to the bylaws, that it effectively takes the city of Stow [COG representative(s)] away from the table and their opinion is diminished because they really have no say in the matter. I think that is fair commentSo the motion makes certain that the City Council will have an opportunity to see the proposed bylaw change with plenty of time to weigh in on that."
Rasor also made motions for two other amendments, both of which passed:
An amendment specifying that the COG in question specifically concerns "dispatch services."
"The purpose is so that the ordinance applies only to the dispatch COG," said Rasor.
An amendment specifying that "The city's representative, representatives and/or alternatives [to the COG board] must be either the mayor, law director, or member of Council and shall be confirmed by two-thirds vote of City Council."
All of those positions are elected ones.
"There's been some discussion that the appointee to the COG doesn't necessarily have to be the mayor and it doesn't have to be a Council person," said Rasor. "It could be someone who doesn't answer directly to voters. I don't think that is a good way to go. I think anyone who is voting on behalf of the city at the COG should be someone who answers directly to the voters."
The bylaws ordinance was sponsored by Councilor Brian Lowdermilk and introduced for first reading by Rasor at Council's Nov. 17 meeting.
"What this legislation is intended to do," said Lowdermilk during Council's Jan. 12 meeting, "is to make sure that first of all, residents and the City Council have a say in the bylaws initially because we're going to get one shot at that, to have the most influence on what those COG bylaws look like and say. After that, we will be one of several, apparently if this is passed, that will vote on it. At that point, the vote will be diluted."
Kline noted that COGs "are not secretive, they are not behind closed doors, they are not set aside so that only certain people have access to the business operations, meetings and records."
"A COG is a public body and as all public bodies are subject to open meeting laws and public records law, a COG is a political subdivision, an independent political subdivision, that is a public body," she said. "So its meetings will be public meetings, its records are fully accessible to anyone who wishes to view them."
The proposal is to form a regional dispatch center, governed by a COG, to be located in 5,000 square feet at the rear of a Summit County Health Department building off Graham Road, near Route 8.
During Council's Jan. 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting, before the regular meeting, Mayor Sara Kline said the "official partners at this time" in the proposed COG include Stow, Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge and the Summit County Sheriff's Office.
Also involved are various communities that Stow and Cuyahoga Falls dispatch for under service contracts. Besides Tallmadge, these include for Stow, Mogadore and Randolph Township and for Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls, Silver Lake and, in a five-year contract agreed to in December, Boston Heights.
The sheriff's office dispatches for communities it patrols in, including Green, Coventry Township, Northfield Center Township and Twinsburg Township. In addition, the sheriff's office provides dispatching services for the Springfield Township Police Department and the Summit County Metro Parks.
"The various folks working on technology and finances and the legal aspects of writing documents continue to work very hard," said Kline.
When first proposed last year, the communities had said their goal was to form the COG by the end of 2016 and have a dispatch center up and running by mid-2017. Kline, however, said this timetable was thrown off when the sheriff's office joined the discussions.
"With the addition of the county, it obviously means a little additional complexity and an additional layer," she said.
Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and sheriff's office officials say that forming a COG would save money, particularly with new equipment purchases which they say they all need to do, whether they form a COG or not. They also say the space in the health department building will include not only enough room for the current dispatching needs of all the communities involved and the county, but also future expansion.
But Lowdermilk and Councilor Bob Adaska have both expressed concerns over the COG, including skepticism that there will be cost savings, especially since the proposal involves the costs of leasing space.
Adaska in particular has expressed outright opposition to forming a COG, saying that he would prefer that Stow remain in control of its dispatching. He has argued that the Stow Safety Center, where the city's dispatch center is now located, has room to expand dispatching if additional communities are taken on under service agreements, especially if the city's law department is moved from the building back to City Hall.
Adaska has also said that as a member of Council in the early 1990s, he was involved in the construction of the safety center and it was designed with security in mind, including in the event of tornadoe:)s.
Adasks, however, said he supports Lowdermilk's ordinance.
"I'll support this legislation with [Rasor's] amendments because I feel we need sort of an insurance policy, that Council needs the ability to weigh in on the bylaws once they're put before us," said Adaska.
"However, if I had my way, my choice as I've stated many times before, the city has one of the best facilities for a safety building and dispatch," he added. "They have some of the best personnel, they have some of the best equipment, in all of Summit County and therefore, I think we can handle those services on our own and we can continue to employ service contracts where we handle smaller communities that would certainly defray the costs involved with dispatching in the future. That's what we're doing now. I think we ought to continue along those lines."
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