EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is responding to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff. Ashland Source reader David Kauf asked, "Why does Ashland City Council always pass things on the first reading instead of the three readings that is supposed to be?"
ASHLAND - Anyone who attended or watched an Ashland City Council meeting has likely seen council members making motions "to suspend the rules for three separate readings on three separate days."
Local resident David Kauf wrote in to Ashland Source via Open Source to ask why that happens so frequently.
It's a question people have been asking city law director Rick Wolfe for years, and one council president Steve Workman frequently is asked.
Often, Wolfe said, people confuse the three readings rule suspension with another action often taken by council-- the declaration of an emergency.
In responding to Kauf's question, Workman said the council does pass most, but not all, ordinances or resolutions as emergency measures and on the first reading.
"This is because most of these are routine and previously budgeted items required to conduct the operations of the city," Workman said. "However, due to the amount of money involved with some items, the city charter requires approval by the city council before action can be taken."
Three separate readings
Ohio law says legislative authorities for municipalities, such as city councils, must read each ordinance or resolution on three different days before the ordinance can be passed. But the law goes on to say the legislative authority may dispense with this rule by a vote of at least three-fourths of its members.
Ashland City Council typically meets twice monthly, so if the council does not suspend the rules for three readings, the period between introduction and passage of a piece of legislation would be a month and a half.
Whether it's passed on the first reading or the third reading, an ordinance or resolution does not go into effect immediately unless it is considered an emergency.
According to the city's charter, a resolution or ordinance does not take effect for 30 days after its passage, unless it is declared to be an emergency by a two-thirds vote of council.
An emergency can be declared for the kinds of things most people typically think of as emergencies-- things that are required "for the immediate preservation of the public peace, property, health or safety." They can also be declared simply to provide for the usual daily operation of the city, according to the charter.
An emergency ordinance or resolution must contain a preamble explaining why the measure is being passed as an emergency, and the reasoning must fit one of the provisions of the charter.
The council can take many actions as an emergency, like authorizing the expenditure of money. But there are restrictions to prevent council members from declaring an emergency for certain actions, like levying a tax.
How the council chooses
If legislation is not passed as an emergency and is read three times, it takes about two and a half months for an item to be introduced, passed and made effective.
"This could become quite cumbersome for the city to conduct business," Workman said. "Imagine if you will, a council that would strictly adhere to non-emergency measures with three separate readings.
"Progress of operations would be slowed, vendors would have to wait for payment, work may not begin in a timely manner, city services may suffer, a parliamentary backlog would be generated, meetings would become inordinately long in order to revisit each item for voting, delays in grant applications filed, etc.
"I'm sure you would agree, I've described an administrative nightmare for the city," Workman said.
So how do city leaders decide when to speed up the timeline for a piece of legislation?
Ordinances or resolutions are presented for council's consideration through various city departments, such as the finance department, the engineering department or the police department.
Leaders of those departments, along with the mayor and the city law director, often weigh in on whether a piece of legislation needs to take effect quickly.
Certain types of actions, such as zoning changes, require that the city hold a public hearing prior to a vote. Those items, therefore, come before council on multiple occasions.
"There are also issues when the council would simply like more time to conduct due diligence prior to passage," Workman said.
Those issues undergo two or three readings, giving council time to research and ask questions and allowing the public more time to comment.
All ordinances and resolutions, whether they are passed as emergencies or not, are subject to referendum if voters disapprove of a decision of council.
"The entire process is a great example of how the council provides representation to each ward of the city, a job we take very seriously," Workman said.
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