Deciphering Democracy in Cuyahoga Falls Vol. 1
I'm Just a (Cuyahoga Falls) Bill: A Civics Class Flashback
Tom Sullivan, 07-17-2018

Tom Sullivan has been a fixture in the Falls community since 1978. He has served on several city committees and commissions, and he is a self-proclaimed "season ticket holder" to Monday night city council meetings.

To become a law, an idea must go through many steps and discussions; it’s a little dance that every piece of city-level legislation goes through, but unless you are familiar with the process, following something you have a stake in can be confusing.

Proposed laws are sponsored by the administration or a councilperson. An ordinance that keeps a person from parking their 11 Volkswagen vans on the street in front of their house might come from the Traffic Committee, while a plan to open a banana plantation on a vacant lot would go through the Planning Commission.

Legislation is introduced at regular council meetings and assigned to the appropriate bipartisan council committee, consisting of a chair and two other members. Council and committee meetings alternate, so legislation goes to a committee meeting after being introduced in a regular council meeting. Residents attending these meetings may view PowerPoint presentations, hear department heads speak, and learn what the committee and other council members have to say about proposed legislation. Afterward, they solicit comments from residents, who get just three minutes each to speak after giving their name and address for the record. Residents may only address the committee chair, according to parliamentary procedure, so if a resident has any questions for the banana farmer or Volkswagen collector, he or she must ask to address them directly.

After everyone has been heard, the committee decides whether to bring the legislation to a vote at the next regular city council meeting. They can also “hold” or “table” the legislation. If held, it must be discussed in the next committee meeting, and the process continues. Tabling an item requires a vote to keep it tabled until a motion is made to bring it off the table. Items tabled for more than a year go away without a vote, which can be used as a means to bury legislation. Once any new legislation passes through a committee, the soon-to-be new law is read for the third time and voted on by council as a whole at the next regular council meeting, where it either passes or fails.

If there is any reason to fast-track a vote, the council can open a regular council meeting, read the ordinance, vote to recess into a committee meeting, read it again, discuss, then reconvene to the council meeting, read the legislation a third time, and vote, but they must secure eight votes to be successful in this case. This approach has been rare in recent years, but residents should know it’s an option.

So, if you find yourself with a stake in proposed city legislation, or if you just want to get involved in the process, reach out to your city council person and attend meetings to get yourself in the know.

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