MANSFIELD -- Law Director John Spon cautioned Mansfield Charter Review Commission members Tuesday that lowering the required number of petition signatures to run for the non-partisan elected body may invite additional Republican involvement.
Currently, anyone seeking election to the commission is required to obtain at least 25 voter signatures if they seek to represent a ward or 50 signatures if they are seeking an at-large slot.
During the "virtual" meeting, Commission at-large member Jill Van Harlingen asked if those requirements should be lowered to 15 signatures for a ward and 30 for an at-large seat.
Richland Source obtained a video copy of the meeting through a public records request Wednesday morning. It was the commission's first meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, members said.
Spon, a Democrat, said lowering the signature requirement for the non-paid commission seats would "make it easer for Republicans to get involved."
The law director said the charter review commission, which is tasked with reviewing the city's charter every four years and suggesting changes, "in theory plays an extremely important role in city government."
He said there are no "major issues" for the current commission to review this year, but said that is not always the case.
"If a majority of Democrats are on the charter review commission, they would have the authority to present that issue to City Council for approval to be voted on by citizens," Spon said.
"I can only say Republicans are so crazy with their support of (President) Trump that it drives me nuts," Spon said. "I could probably say of all the presidents I have experienced, I have such utter disdain for Republican Trump that I can't put it in words. I have got no sympathy for Republicans and Trumpsters and the alt-right."
Spon cited a hypothetical case involving the Mansfield Police Department.
"During this present time, when we have a moral obligation to try to improve the lives of all our citizens, and particularly our Black and Brown citizens as it relates to law enforcement, we have a present procedure if a complaint is brought by citizens, the investigation is done by the police department," Spon said.
In 2003, Mansfield City Council created civilian Police Review and Community-Police Relations Commission, which reviews completed investigations of the police department that involve citizen complaints.
"I am not sure that's the best route to go," Spon said. "Hypothetically, maybe it should be the law director in charge of that investigation because the law director is independent."
Spon said he is proud of the Mansfield Police Department and current Chief Keith Porch and that he thinks "99 percent" of the officers are great.
"Hypothetically, down the road, (what) if we had a corrupt chief of police who didn't care if his officers were acting like Gestapo members and then are doing their own investigations? That goes against my belief of an independent investigation," Spon said.
Spon, who is not a member of the charter review commission but was asked by the panel to review what other charter cities require in terms of petition signatures, said lowering the number of required signatures on petitions could impact the committee's ability to raise that issue.
"That type of issue would probably never pass if we had the majority of Republicans on the charter review commission," Spon said. "A lot of them are not invested in being fair to all members of our community, particularly African-American and Brown Americans. They would never present that issue before the citizens."
Teri Marlow, a member of the Charter Review Commission representing the 3rd Ward and also a member of the police review commission, told Spon the panel can ask questions as it reviews the police department investigations of citizen complaints.
"We can review the whole thing," she said. "And then we vote. If we don't agree with the outcome, there is more work to do."
Ultimately, the members unanimously agreed to keep the signature requirement at the current levels. It ended its work and will not recommend any charter changes to city council.
"I think it does speak to the desire to be on the committee," 6th Ward commission member John Precup said. "Getting (that number of signatures) wasn't over-taxing to me."
1st Ward commission member Venita Shoulders agreed.
"I am OK with where it is. Living in the ward I am in, there are more Rs than Ds. I could still find enough. I am comfortable with it," Shoulders said.