City Council members pass varying amounts of ordinances during their terms

Athens City Council meeting Tuesday September 8, 2015 Athens, Ohio
Athens City Council meeting
Tuesday September 8, 2015
Athens, Ohio

Athens City Councilman Jeff Risner has granted a license and sponsored an ordinance for the mayor during his three years in office — and that’s it.

For some councilmembers, taking the six weeks necessary to get an ordinance on the books happens like clockwork. For others, though, it’s a rarity.

Post review of changes to Athens City Code made over the past five years found that some city council members sponsored as many as 54 passed ordinances in a single year, while others went a year without contributing any ordinances of their own.

Some maintain that’s a direct result of council’s committee-based structure, but others say that might be indicative of legislative quality.

“Sponsoring ordinances might be one way to look at a city council member’s activity or quality,” said Frederic Cady, an assistant professor of political science at Ohio University. 

Cady said a council member’s effectiveness also depends on how they cater to those they serve.

This year, Athens City Council passed 84 ordinances through mid-October, compared to the 246 passed by Marietta’s city council through early November. Athens City Council members earn $7,357 annually, with an extra $2,000 for Council President Jim Sands.

Risner, D-2nd Ward, averages fewer than one ordinance a year, having passed one in 2012 and one this year since his election into office in 2011. The first ordinance granted a revocable license to Chillicothe-based Horizon Telcom, Inc. and the second allowed Mayor Paul Wiehl to execute a block grant program.

Still, Risner maintains that his duties as a councilman extends out of regular council sessions.

“It takes up a lot of my time and it seems to be growing the more you get into it,” Risner said, adding that he spends about two or three hours a week outside of session on council-related matters.

Risner attributed his low sponsorship rate to the fact he isn’t a chair of any council committee, though he does sit on the City and Safety Services Committee and the Planning and Development Committee, where he serves as a member and vice chair, respectively. 

“I enjoy doing what I’m doing,” Risner said, “but if someone takes the lead, then fine.”

According to Council Clerk Debbie Walker, council’s committee chairs — Chris Knisely, Chris Fahl, Steve Patterson and Michele Papai — typically sponsor most ordinances because of the body’s organizational structure.

She said that if a councilmember comes up with an idea for a law, then he or she can still bring it forward. 

Risner doesn’t object to that structure.

“I don’t care who gets credit,” Risner said. “I didn’t come in with the idea to make a big splash.”

He doesn’t spend much time worrying about the number of ordinances he’s sponsored.

“To me, it’s like ‘Oh gee-whiz, I’m really upset about that,’ ” Risner said sarcastically. “I don’t care, really.”

Risner said he’s in the “research stage” of crafting an ordinance offering tax cuts to homeowners as an incentive to have solar panels to help power their home.

Another council member without a chair position to their name is Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-at large, who has sponsored five approved ordinances since her appointment in June 2013.

Those five were all ordinances council members pass annually to allow for Halloween festivities — the annual Halloween Block Party and the Uptown Business Association’s Trick or Treat event — to run smoothly.

“I’m working with Steve Patterson on the tobacco-free ordinance, but that’s about it for now,” she said.

In Marietta, about 50 miles northeast of Athens, each council member has passed at least 13 ordinances this year and all chair a committee. In both Marietta and Athens, the council chairs of finance-related committees sponsored the most ordinances this year, through the middle of last month.

Tom Vukovic, the head of Marietta’s Finance and Taxation committee — a comparable committee to Athens’ Finance and Personnel — has sponsored the most ordinances among his body this year, while Councilwoman Knisely, D-at large, has sponsored the most each of the past three years.

Athens’ Finance and Personnel committee writes legislation concerning monies that need to be rearranged, as well as agreements with city staff members, county commissioners and Athens law enforcement.

Knisely, who chairs council’s Finance and Personnel Committee, chalked up her large workload — a workload that has allowed her to sponsor 222 ordinances in the past five years — to “the nature of the committee structure.”

Knisely maintains she spends “a fair amount of time” outside council reflecting on her part-time job. “There are always meetings to attend in the city to educate yourself,” Knisely said.

Knisely said she left her job as the Executive Director of the Research Office at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic medicine in 2010 to focus more on her mounting work, particularly as a committee chair.

“(As) much as I loved the work at the College, by 2010 I thought I needed to devote more time to the City Council work,” Knisely said. “I miss my colleagues at the university but I think the work with City Council has opened a new window in understanding the Athens community.”



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