Recalled: Former Aumsville councilors reflect on decisions, seats now open

September, 2018 Posted in Community

By Mary Owen

The recall of three Aumsville city councilors over a $12 monthly public safety fee has been met with mixed feelings.

“Last year, the city council  and city manager decided to create a police safety fee to be added to the water bill so we could fund a sixth officer, and have money in reserve to hire a seventh officer to get full police coverage,” said Kevin Crawford, who was recalled with councilors Trina Lee and Lorie Walters. “Surveys we took indicated that our citizens wanted 24/7 police coverage. Even with seven officers, we can just cover basics and no more.”

According to Walters, with sick leave, vacation and mandatory training, there were occasional gaps in coverage. Additionally, increasing costs for benefits and PERS not adequately budgeted for could cause the loss of the sixth officer, hired after three local robberies and a shooting in Turner that officers responded to, if additional sources of income had not been found.

With 50 percent of voters needed to pass an ordinance in an odd number year, and city voters not topping 40 percent in recent elections, Crawford said the city council after much deliberation decided not to wait until an even year to fund the extra officer.

“We did what we thought was best for the community,” he said. “We tried to make this as fair and equitable as possible. We kept it down to $12 a month and language was left in with the option to give money back or reduce it if it was found there was enough.” The council held two public meetings before voting in the ordinance.

“We tried to tailor the ordinance to concerns people brought up before voting it through,” Crawford said. “We spent many hours giving this a lot of thought.”

In the city’s July newsletter, Lee assured residents that the city council sought public input longer than required, and that the majority of citizens were in favor of the fee.Nevertheless, the council’s decision not to take it to public vote was met with an outcry.

“There are quite a few members of the community that felt that the city council did not do their due diligence in informing the community about a potential fee,” said Derek Clevenger, who initiated the recall in January. “Although the city did follow the regulations laid out by the city charter, they simply did the bare minimum. Given that Aumsville has a large population of low and fixed income families, many people felt that the bare minimum was not enough.”

Clevenger worried that people who couldn’t afford the fee would have their water and sewer services shut off. He also believes that recent increases to the Aumsville police department have been excessive, leading many community members to “feel that the city has not been the best steward of our tax dollars in regards to the police fund.”

Clevenger alleged many in the community felt they were “talked down to” and that the council was not interested in their concerns.

“The main drive has been to request that the city council reevaluate the wording of the ordinance so people are not put in jeopardy of losing water and sewer service should they not be able to pay,” he said. “There has also been discussion about forming a nonprofit or some sort of other fund to help ensure that families don’t lose vital services due to poor policy-making decisions on the part of the city council.”

Crawford said even with this police issue resolved, he would not run again.

“I’m just a guy in my community who wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It was never my intent to harm anybody. We all felt that we did the right thing. The actions we took were for the safety of our community.”

Crawford said the city lost “two pillars of the community” with the recall of Lee and Walters. Walters said she believes city councilors did their best with the information at hand, and that making sure the city remained safe was their mandate.

The three councilor seats are now open, and to date, nine people have applied for the positions, according to city clerk Colleen Rogers. Clevenger has decided to run for mayor in the Nov. 6 election.

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