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Deciphering Democracy in Cuyahoga Falls Vol. 2
Tom Sullivan, Falls Free Press, 11-30-2018
What is a City Councilperson and How do they Get that Way?

Stephen Mulé
Councilman Russ Iona, left, of Ward 8 listens as Councilman Drew Reilly, right, of Ward 1 speaks during a Cuyahoga Falls City Council meeting in April.
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.

Becoming a Cuyahoga Falls city councilperson starts with getting 25 registered voters in a candidate's same political party or with no partisan affiliation to sign a candidacy petition. If a candidate runs for an at-large council seat—meaning they are elected by the whole city and not just a specific ward—they would need twice as many friends to sign.

Once a ward council candidate completes their petition, the board of elections has to verify the signatures. The candidate must have lived in the ward they plan on serving for a minimum of six months and in the city for three years. Municipal employees cannot run for city council seats. Assuming candidates meet these criteria, they are added to the ballot, but if someone else from the same party also meets the criteria, both candidates will face off in a primary vote for the party's sole candidate, who moves on to the general election in November.

Though a working understanding of parliamentary procedure and Robert's Rules of Order is helpful for getting through meetings, anyone who wants to do the job is eligible, provided they meet the basic requirements. In fact, Cuyahoga Falls council members have come from a wide variety of professions over the years.

Once elected, the actual job of a city councilperson—whose term lasts two years, or four if they are at-large—is kind of like being the city’s mom. Although the mayor has the top job in the city, city council has all the checks and balances. So, just like at home, mom has the final say about everything. The council votes on appointments to commissions and boards, site plans for developments, new laws, and the annual budget.

In addition to council meetings, council members are also contacts for their individual wards, helping ensure a response to any issues that arise. City council members are happy to field inquiries and suggest courses of action to deal with problems. Since city councilors meet and interact with the mayor's cabinet once a week, they know all the right people in City Hall to get issues resolved in relatively short order.

While it may seem like city council members receive a handsome salary, their annual pay is actually only $18,600.92, plus health benefits. Since councilors re-apply for the job every two or four years, some part of their salary goes toward campaign expenses for reelection, so there really isn't that much compensation for the councilperson commitment.

So, come summer, when your councilperson is knocking on doors, take some time to visit with them. Let them know if you think they are doing a good job. After all, they may be the mom, but they answer to you.

  
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