The function of Dayton’s government
This is an election year for three members of the Dayton City Commission, and during such times there are an awful lot of people who do not fully understand how their local government works here in Dayton. I will try to cover a few things to better the understanding.
A little history first: Dayton has a City Manager form of government. It was proposed by John Patterson in 1913 for several reasons. One was to remove corruption from City Hall. Another reason was to prevent a strong socialist movement from influencing local politics. The International Workers of the World were influencing politics around the country before the onset of World War I and it was a time when unions were forming. The Barney and Smith Car Works here in Dayton hired a large number of Hungarians who were touched by the concept of socialism in their homeland. John Patterson had a dreadful fear of unions. By getting a five-member commission elected to hire a city manager would mean that three Socialist commissioners would have to get elected in order to hire a Socialist city manager. There were not enough unions or socialists in the city at the time to get three commissioners elected.
How does it work? The city manager runs the city. The city manager has the full resources of the city at his fingertips and hires experts in planning, waste collection, police, fire safety, building safety, directors of recreation and youth services, the airport, the water department and a convention center. He also has financial experts and budget experts that report to him. The entire budget of the City of Dayton is around $550 million. The general fund budget, which derives its revenue from the city income tax, is $150 million. This is the source of wages for the firemen, policemen and public works employees that we think about every day when we think of city government.
The city manager reports to the city commission. He reports to the people elected to represent the residents and taxpayers of Dayton. The city commission is made up of five members. One is the mayor. Each member of the commission has one vote and the vote is equal to each other commission member. Commissioners are paid around $38,000 a year to work part time. The mayor is paid $45,000 a year and is expected to run the weekly commission meetings as well as perform numerous ceremonial duties. The purpose of the commission is to meet with citizens and discuss local issues or items with them and report back to the city manager. Their function is to direct policy. The city manager then utilizes his staff to come up with solutions, ordinances, programs or processes to affect those policies. When that is done, it is presented to the city commission. The manager also presents contracts and expenditures to the city commission if they exceed a $10,000 limit. The commission members can vote to support or deny the city manager’s recommendations.
The commissioners are elected by the voters and the election is non-partisan. That means that party affiliation is not declared on the ballot and in reality the parties should not have a need to influence elections. This has not been the case in Dayton since the early 1960’s. To become a commissioner or mayor, you need to be a registered voter residing in the City of Dayton and you must get 500 registered voters from Dayton to sign a petition to place your name on the ballot. Since the election is non-partisan, all candidates have to get a minimum number of 500 signatures and cannot submit more than 1,500 signatures on their petitions. Once on the ballot, you have to convince a majority of voters to elect you. This year, for the first time in maybe 20 years, there was a primary election for both the mayor and the commissioners up for reelection. In order for this to happen, more than two candidates have to get on the ballot for mayor and more than four for commissioner. The primary election is effectively a run off. The two highest vote getters for mayor and four highest for commissioner go on to the general election in November.
I am writing this on May 7, 2013. Today is Election Day for the primary here in Dayton. I have voted, but the results are not due for several hours. The following is my opinion and not the opinion of the city, this newspaper or any other person.
I can say that having been the mayor of Dayton for three-and-a-half years now and having experienced the wrath of one political party and indifference of the other, I believe that our charter’s requirement that the election is non-partisan is crucial to the future success of this city. Historically, before the 1960’s at least, business leaders elected businessmen to act as a board of directors to oversee the city manager. After the 1960’s, the political parties supported candidates to do their will with local tax dollars, and from that point on the City of Dayton moved in a downward direction. The time has come to incorporate the original intent of the charter and get community leaders elected who are not beholden to any outside influences. A commission that is not swayed by a national agenda or distracted by what the other side is doing will always work in the best interests of the citizens. If you are a Dayton resident, then you need to vote in November. This year, you have very unique opportunity to elect people who are not affiliated with political parties. Do your homework and study the candidates. Evaluate what each brings to the table. Don’t let party affiliations or union endorsements sway you. Creativity is needed in Dayton to keep the renaissance happening. You have a voice. It counts, so use it!
Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com