Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
During a meeting of Portsmouth City Legal and Legislative Committee on Thursday, Councilman Kevin W. Johnson introduced three items of legislation aimed at public records, use of city property, and committee structure.
The first new legislation introduced by Johnson on Thursday was a definition of this and other new committees formed by city council, and how it will change the way legislation is introduced to council.
“Before I came on council, people would actually introduce legislation at a council meeting. Which was horrible, because the public wasn’t advised of it upfront, and neither were the members of council,” Johnson said. “Since I’ve been on council, we’ve changed that, that all legislation has to go through the mayor’s conference agenda first. Now with the establishment of these committees, the Legal and Legislative Committee is responsible for all legislation introduced by members of council. So it has to go there first, to be approved or rewritten or denied. If it is approved or rewritten, then it goes to the mayor’s conference agenda to be further discussed and approved. If it’s approved, then it goes to council. So there’s now three steps, which is totally in-line with what happens in our state legislature and our Congress. Everything comes out of committee.”
The city manager, city auditor, and city solicitor can introduce new legislation during a council meeting, Johnson explained, but it still must pass through the mayor’s agenda.
In addition to the Legal and Legislative Committee, the city has also formed a Budget and Finance Committee; Economic Development and Sustainability Committee; Parks, Service, Buildings, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee; Personnel and Performance Committee; and Public Works, Codes and Standards Committee. The President of Council appoints one member of council to serve as chairperson to a committee, and that chair can appoint up to six voting members of their committee and may invite city staff to participate as voting members.
Also through the committee on Thursday, Johnson introduced a new public records policy in response to Ohio Auditor David Yost’s recent review of the city’s compliance with Sunshine laws.
“It was brought up by our audit that we don’t have a policy, nor any reference to Ohio Revised Code policy, so we didn’t have a methodology that people could understand how they request records, nor have we trained anyone in the city to understand the various aspects of the Ohio Revised Code as regards records requests and records retention,” Johnson said.
The policy introduced by Johnson Thursday evening states, “Each office within the City of Portsmouth … shall adhere to this Public Records Policy and shall designate an individual to whom public records requests may be made. A listing of all such individuals by office shall be maintained by the office of the City Manager and made available to and as reference for the public. A monthly report of records requested shall be provided to the office of the City Manager. Such report shall NOT contain the name of the requester.”
The policy would also require the city to respond to all requests within five days.
“What I essentially recommended to the Legal and Legislative Committee was drawn directly from the Ohio Attorney General’s website as a guide, a sample for that policy. I simply amended it to show how it would work within the city,” Johnson said.
If approved by city council, this new policy would begin Jan. 2, 2014.
Johnson also introduced a new policy restricting the use of city property. This comes three months after Portsmouth Mayor David Malone was under fire for using city equipment in a project on a garage on his property. Malone reported, and the city service director confirmed, that the city does allow employs to use city equipment on private property.
“How it is handled within the city has always been inconsistent. That may have occurred in the city service department, but it’s forbidden by the police department and forbidden by the fire department. So we’ve had inconsistent application of this particular issue within different departments of the city,” Johnson said.
In response to this inconsistency, Johnson’s policy reads, “No officer or employee may use, nor allow any other person to use, City resources for any non-City business purpose. Use of City resources for personal, political, employee organization or other non-City business is strictly prohibited. City resources include, but are not limited to, facilities, equipment, devices, telephones, computers, copier, fax machine, e-mail, Internet access, supplies and any time for which you are receiving compensation from the City.”
The policy goes on to define “inappropriate uses of city resources” to include online gambling; viewing sports events online; playing games, streaming video or music on a work computer; viewing or distributing materials that are not related to city business or that are sexually explicit; and frequent talking on a personal cell phone or texting during work hours. The policy also restricts the city’s e-mail system to “authorized official communications” only, and warns that the city may monitor employee e-mail usage at any time, without notice.
Johnson said the committee will consider these items a while longer before deciding whether or not to advance them to the mayor’s conference agenda.
“I expect all three of these things — when they were introduced there was a lot of questions. That’s why I love this committee structure, because the more people to look at something and to bring up the right questions, and how should it flow, and how should it work, and what’s going to be the result of it, and do we need it, and how does it relate to our current city charter, how does it relate to Ohio Revised Code? All the right questions were asked last night,” Johnson said.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.