July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Do you want a full-time mayor, Sheffield?

Council members want to put issue to a vote

SHEFFIELD — Two Council members want voters to decide whether the mayor should be on the job for 40 hours a week.
Council passed an ordinance in October 2005 making the city’s chief executive a full-time job starting next year, but Councilmen Kevin Watkinson and Leo Sheets now say the village doesn’t need someone in City Hall that much — especially not when it comes with a salary increase of $20,000 to $40,000.
The two have started a petition drive to put the issue on the November ballot, and plan on going door-to-door seeking the 159 valid signatures, or 10 percent of village voters in the last gubernatorial election, needed by Aug. 23.
 “If the people want a full-time mayor at $40,000 then they won’t sign, but we’re giving them that choice,” Sheets said.
“There’s a lot of cities that don’t even have full-time mayors. There’s very little going on. We’ve gotten along for many years without a full-time mayor.”
The referendum will also include a repeal of a salary increase Council gave Mayor Darlene Ondercin in July 2005 for acting as the public safety director in charge of safety forces for the village.
Although both Sheets and Watkinson voted in favor of the ordinances, Sheets said he was the last to vote both times and placing a no vote would not have done any good.
“I should have (voted no),” Sheets said. “It was my mistake. I don’t know why Watkinson didn’t, but the rest of Council just went along with the mayor like they always do.”
Watkinson did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
Ondercin, who’s been mayor since 1994 and is up for re-election this November, said Monday that the petition drive is a personal attack by Sheets, in part because of an ongoing rift she’s had with him over how to direct the city.
She supports the mayor working full-time because the village is growing and there needs to be someone available to respond to village needs.
“I’m retired, so this isn’t for me,” she said. “But in the future, when I’m gone, are we going to have a part-time mayor who can only tend to business after 6 o’clock? The residents deserve someone to be at their beck and call.”
As for the public safety director’s pay, Ondercin said that although she’s been doing that job since she’s been mayor, the job has become much more demanding in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“You’re required to get certifications and go to school, so it’s become more of a job than it used to be,” she said. So rather than hiring someone part-time to do those duties, Council gave the mayor that position along with what the position would pay.
“When Council looked at the mayor’s position in the wake of 9/11, they looked at making it full-time and they wanted to define its duties,” Ondercin said.
A lawyer working with Sheets and Watkinson on the drive wrote in a media release that there is a question about whether it was legal for Ondercin to receive the $15,000 while still in office, because raises can only be given post-term.
Sheffield Law Director Luke McConville said Monday that the village isn’t doing anything illegal.
Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com.