November 27, 2014

Elyria
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Sheffield vote on mayor may burn 2 firefighters

SHEFFIELD — An initiative by two Sheffield Village Council members to turn the mayor’s job into a part-time position might also cost the village two firefighters.

On Monday, Councilmen Leo Sheets and Kevin Watkinson filed petitions with the county Board of Elections to place an ordinance on the November ballot that removes the mayor’s job from a list of the village’s full-time positions.

But the language in the proposed ordinance, taken directly from an ordinance passed by Council in 2005 that made the mayor’s job full-time, sets the number of full-time firefighters at 12. The village hired two additional firefighters last year, bringing the total to 14.

The ordinance was never updated, and Law Director Luke McConville said now that Sheets and Watkinson have used the old language in the ordinance they want voters to pass, it could be interpreted as capping the number of firefighters at 12 if passed in November.

“Two firefighters could be fired or laid off,” McConville said. “An initiative petition is something voted on by the electorate, and I think the electorate’s vote could be interpreted as, ‘Hey, Legislature, you’ve exceeded the number of firefighters and we’re telling you affirmatively that we don’t want to do that.’ ”

That was not the intent of the petition drive, Sheets said. He and Watkinson, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, only wanted to return the mayor to a part-time position and didn’t know about the firefighter issue until Tuesday.

Still, Sheets said he doesn’t think it’s a problem because the firefighters were already hired.
“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, because they’re already there,” he said.

Sheffield fire Chief Jeff Young said if the number of firefighters in his department is reduced by two, he would have to reduce the number of firefighters on each shift from five to four.

McConville said he was researching whether Council can pass another ordinance increasing the number of firefighters allowed if voters approve the issue. He said he’s worried that, if passed, someone could challenge the language in court.

“If that happens, my opinion is that a court would say, ‘This is what is in the ordinance and this is what the electorate passed,’ ” he said. “But, at the very least, this will create a lot of confusion for the village and voters if this passes.”

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said ballot language can get complicated, and it will be up to McConville to determine how to interpret the ordinance if it passes.

“Ballot language is something that has to be interpreted all the time,” Will said.

The Elections Board must confirm that Sheets and Watkinson gathered enough valid signatures from registered voters before the issue can be put on the ballot.

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151or awright@chroniclet.com.