Hamilton term limits and wards: Petitioners short on signatures

A group of Hamilton residents hoping to create term limits and a ward system for Hamilton City Council failed to gather the required signatures to place the items on the November ballot.

“I think at last count we were real close to 800” signatures, said Archie Johnson, a former council member who led the group called Citizens for Change.

The group was required to gather 1,082 valid signatures from registered voters, and was aiming to collect 1,500, to ensure enough of those were from properly registered people.

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Ultimately, the group didn’t give itself enough time, having submitted petitions, as required, to the Hamilton city clerk on July 31, before collecting names of supporters. Signatures were due to the Butler County Board of Elections at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

So they now go to Plan B — seeking the change on the May 2018, ballot. The petition-filing deadline for that is Feb. 8, according to Melissa Trotta of the Butler County Board of Elections.

Completely new petitions must be used, because dates and other details of the charter amendments must be changed, Johnson said.

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A few years ago, when Hamilton residents were surveyed, 27 percent said they strongly supported moving to a ward system, while another 53 percent said they “somewhat” supported it, for a total of 80 percent of the 333 people surveyed in support. On the other hand, 12 percent were somewhat opposed, and 8 percent strongly opposed.

Vice Mayor Carla Fiehrer said she agrees with Hamilton Community Council Chairman the late Butch Hubble, who was quoted in a November, 2012, Journal-News article opposing going to the ward system. Hubble at the time said: ““We are only 62,000 people. At that size it would actually divide the city more by having a particular council person be responsible for one particular ward…. I see our council people working hard for everybody, not just their area. I like it when we all work together, and I think wards would bring in too much competition (among council members and parts of the city).”

“I still believe that to be true,” Fiehrer said about Hubble’s quotes. She said that in 2000, a Charter Review Committee investigated the ward system and, “overall consensus was a ward system would be divisive and that public officials should represent and be accountable to the entire city.”

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The term-limits change would have limited council members and the mayor to a pair of four-year terms.

The ward system, intended to ensure council members come from more diverse areas of the city, would require that four council members be elected from four different wards. The other three council positions (including the mayor) could be elected from anywhere across the city. Currently, all seven council members, including the mayor, are elected citywide.

“For a week’s time, to be able to collect almost 800 signatures, that’s a good deal,” Johnson said. “To be able to get almost 800 in less than a week, I think you’ve done a great job, and you have to pat yourself on the back.”

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