Since I set out an initial platform including better senior amenities, and protecting Lakewood’s green space, I have spoken with people throughout the community about dozens more issues that matter to them. Lead safety, youth recreation opportunities, nuisance laws, just to name a few.
Throughout the campaign, however, proactive communication and transparency has always been a priority. That’s why I have encouraged people to speak out with ideas and questions, holding frequent public events and trying to bring the conversation to people throughout Lakewood.
On Election Day, I hope you will allow me an opportunity to take these conversations further, as an active representative for you on City Council.
There are other questions on our ballots in Lakewood, however, and people have also asked me about some of these. (Especially Issue 2!) I’m glad to answer these questions also. Your vote is ultimately your decision, and I encourage you to check some independent guides like Vote411 or ballotpedia. But I think we have a right to know where people representing us—or seeking to represent us—stand on issues before the community.
So, here are the decisions I made and some comments on how I made them.
For many years, Lakewood exempted students from filing a local income tax return, if they spent most of the year at college. Then, late in 2015, City Council voted to end that exemption beginning with filings for 2016.
This vote came up as a question at a candidate forum a couple of weeks ago, and I was surprised that all of the incumbent candidates struggled to remember it.
I was actually the only candidate familiar with the issue, and replied that I would have fought to keep this exemption for students. To be entirely fair, City Council holds a lot of votes, and I can’t say for certain that I would have recalled the details of this one almost two years later.
But the issue also came up again just this year, when people went to file 2016 taxes and began asking where the college student exemption went. People discussed it online, the Lakewood Observer published an article, and Lakewood’s Finance Director as well as Ward 4 Councilman Dan O’Malley all weighed in.
I noticed this, and the discussion convinced me that this was not a decision that I would have supported on council. While the city cited changes in state law as the reason for taking away the exemption, residents noticed that other Ohio cities have kept this filing exemption. The Director of Tax Policy at the Ohio Society of CPAs says that nothing in 2014 tax law changes prevented Lakewood from doing the same.
Based on that, I can say that I disagree with the choice made by City Council in 2015. It’s a relatively small thing in practical terms. But with so many people struggling to afford college, we should stand up for whatever support Lakewood can offer, not take it away in a vote that no one seemed to notice.
Sunshine Week is a yearly opportunity to promote open government. Our Bill of Rights recognizes an informed public as crucial for democratic government, mentioning freedom of the press within the first 26 words. But good government actively supports an engaged public, as well as respecting an independent press. Transparent processes, open meetings, and accessible public records protect society’s basic right to know what their government is up to.
Sunshine Week provides a reminder to check up on government at all levels, consider what’s working and what can be better.
Being a densely populated city benefits Lakewood, in this regard: it’s a short trip to attend meetings and look in on elected officials personally. Councilman Dan O’Malley’s recent legislation to publish minutes of every public meeting online is commendable, as well, and I heartily applaud it. But our city can improve in many areas. Lakewood’s Democratic Club includes a permanent, standing Sunshine Committee, and our publicly paid officials could benefit by this example. As a city councilman, I will be an ongoing advocate for the ideals of Sunshine Week.
Let’s take the lead on government transparency:
- Our city should implement timely online publishing of meeting minutes—and complement it with consistently publishing meeting agendas online, ahead of time.
- Public officials should responsibly disclose conflicts of interest, and recuse themselves from all votes where they face a conflict.
- We should answer records requests using a broader definition of valid public records, and eliminate months-long delays before providing responses.
- Given the holes which public-private partnerships can leave in the public record, we should make transparency a condition of any public-private partnership which Lakewood enters.
- We should extend the city’s record-keeping period, which is now just two years for some records, including many electronic documents which we can preserve for pennies.
- Public property should be disposed of, and public money spent, through careful open processes. Public officials should never conceal or suppress proposals, which is not only exclusionary, but places our city in potentially costly legal jeopardy.
Even amid setbacks for transparency, our national government is subject to intense 24/7 scrutiny and renewed public engagement. We should all help sustain that. But we should also support transparency from the local level, and make our community a model for better practices. Learn more about Sunshine Week and how to join in at: sunshineweek.rcfp.org