A war of wills is brewing in Woodmere Village. The mayor and council have been at odds over issues of spending and control during the past several months.
In the latest exchange, council approved two ordinances and a resolution as emergency provisions, and Mayor Ben Holbert vetoed all three measures. The quick passage of the issues was surprising to us, as were the mayor’s vetoes. Vetoes rarely are used in local government. This, in fact, was the first time Mayor Holbert exercised his veto power since taking office last year.
Then, on a Wednesday afternoon, council called a special meeting for a Saturday morning. During the 5-minute session, council overrode the mayor’s vetoes without significant comment.
So, who won here? In our estimation, neither side. Clearly, the residents of Woodmere lost. Government, especially local government, must be transparent so citizens have sufficient opportunity to examine the issues and voice their opinions. This is necessary for issues both big and small.
So what was all the fuss about? One ordinance required the mayor to submit a report to council about any donations up to $1,000 that he accepted on behalf of the village. The other ordinance stipulated that special meetings could only be called by the council president or the clerk at the request of four or more council members. That leaves the mayor completely out of the loop. The third issue was adoption of a council handbook written by Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley.
None of these issues needed to be approved as emergencies. Village and city councils typically have three readings at three separate meetings on proposed laws to give everyone time to study the details, ask questions and comment. This process is especially important for residents.
Council may have excellent reasons for the changes, but without public discussion, we don’t know why.
We also are concerned that Village Council held a work session in April at a public library in Beachwood where the issues were apparently discussed. Going outside the village makes it more difficult for residents to attend. Discussions on the ordinances should have taken place at a regular council session.
We are, however, encouraged that council is scrutinizing village spending. We agree that council should know where the mayor, who has the authority to spend up to $5,000 on budgeted items, is spending village money. Council sets the spending plan, so members need to know if the plan is being followed.
We were shocked that the village spent $8,000 on a casino-themed holiday party last year for village employees where 80 guests attended. That included $1,100 spent on gifts for village workers, which Law Director Frank Consolo, Treasurer Tom Cornhoff and Engineer Ed Hren plan to cover through a donation to the village. Still, council did approve the party expenditure last year.
We agree with Ms. Mitchell Earley who expressed concern about what auditors might think of the party expense.
We encourage council to continue keeping a close eye on spending in the village.
At the same time, Mayor Holbert needs to be able to do his job of overseeing operations and promoting the village to keep residents and businesses content. Both sides need to communicate and work together.
Ultimately, all elected officials in all communities across Ohio and the U.S. work for the people, the taxpayers. That means all decisions and processes must be open and accessible to citizens.