By STACY MILLBERG - firstname.lastname@example.org
County government could see a big change if a local group is successful in getting a proposed charter form of government on the November ballot.
The group, known as the Committee for a New Ashtabula, is made up of former Ashtabula County Coroner Dr. Robert Malinowski, Andover Village Mayor Bernard Baranowski, Vince Gildone of Conneaut, Monique Kawalek of Rock Creek and Dave Glotzbecker of Sheffield Township.
Essentially, the proposed charter government would be non-partisan and replace the three current commissioners with seven part-time district council persons, who will each represent a different area of the county.
The charter would cut the elected officials’ salaries and combine some of the county offices to potentially save the taxpayers more than $500,000 a year.
Additionally, the charter proposes no sales tax increases without a vote of the people first; off-year elections to allow for local candidates to be the focus of electors; county meetings to be held in the evenings so more people can take an active roll in local government; a law director to handle all civl matters for the county and townships; an economic development department to centralize efforts to grow the county’s workforce; and term limits of three years for elected officials.
“It’s about time we do something to get out little county government back into the hands of the people,” Malinowski said.
The charter is modeled after an arrangement in place in Summit County and Cuyahoga County as well as a few others, he said.
“They basically took what was good on each of them and put it together,” Malinowski said.
Most of the county elected offices would be retained including the county prosecutor, auditor, sheriff, coroner and county engineer; however, the charter would remove the county treasurer, recorder and clerk of courts as elected positions and they would be appointed by the council.
The Prosecutor’s Office would also be divided up with the county prosecutor’s primary responsibility being to prosecute civil matters for the county and townships, he said.
“The townships are having difficulty getting legal representation from the county prosecutor,” Malinowski said. “They end up having to hire outside representation for their legal matters.”
Committee members will be working over the next month to get petitions circulated. The charter petition needs signatures from 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race, which is roughly 3,000 signatures.
“Several people I’ve talked to have expressed interest in circulating petitions,” Malinowski said. “I have been getting a very positive response from everyone I’ve talked to.”
Malinowski said after serving more than 30 years as coroner, he has learned a lot about how county government works as well as how it does not work and why.
“It is now time for me to give, what I feel, is the greatest contribution back to the people of Ashtabula County, by giving them the chance to remove the partisan politics from our local government and everything that comes with it,” he said. “I believe that the people of Ashtabula County can govern themselves far better than bureaucrats can.”
The deadline to file the petitions for the charter with the Ashtabula County Board of Elections is 130 days before the November election, which is June 28.
A similar effort was attempted in the county in 2010, but organizers failed to get the required number of signatures on the petition to have it placed on the ballot.
The charter can be viewed in its entirety on the committee’s Web site at www.newashtabula.com.