June 29, 2016

Mostly sunny

Brunswick councilman slams election rules changes

BRUNSWICK — City Councilman Mike Abella, Ward 1, said the city made a mistake in changing the way Council’s three at-large seats are filled.

The new rules, which went into effect this year, require three separate nonpartisan races in both the primary and November general elections. The old system put all at-large candidates in a single race, with the top six vote-getters in the primary moving on to the November election.

Mike Abella

But the new format has had an unintended consequence — the two incumbent at-large Council members, Patricia Hanek and Brian Ousley, are unopposed in the May 6 primary.

And because only two candidates filed for the open third seat, they won’t be on the primary ballot, either. Ryan Kolegar and Alex Johnson won’t face off until the November election.

“This year we only have one (contested) race, so let’s talk about changing it back,” Abella said during a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday night.

City voters approved changing the way at-large Council members are elected in 2010 on the recommendation of a Charter Review Committee.

Abella said a problem with the new system is that it doesn’t prevent candidates from taking out petitions for all three Council seats and deciding which race to file in the moments before the filing deadline.

Councilman Vince Carl, Ward 2, said he and the other Council members opposed the new rules, but couldn’t overrule the review committee’s recommendations, which voters approved.

Abella also proposed pushing up the date new Council members take office after the November election.

“I think we need to end this lame-duck session we have,” he said.

Abella, along with Council members Anthony Capretta, Ward 4, Dave Coleman, Ward 3, and Ousley, all unseated incumbents in November 2011.

Coleman said he thought some items were rushed through during the two months the old Council served after the election, including a road levy.

“I agree we saw stuff getting rushed through,” Coleman said.

City Law Director Ken Fisher cautioned Council that the earliest members likely could start the new term would be December, because they would have to wait for the county to certify the election results, which happens in late November.

Mayor Gary Werner also warned that beginning new terms at the beginning of December could complicate passing the upcoming year’s budget.

Council President Hanek said she would create a charter review committee to review the rules. Abella volunteered to chair the committee, which will include Carl and Councilman Ron Falconi, at large.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.