North Canton residents and city council members butted heads as they discussed what can be up for discussion at meetings of the Source Water Assessment and Protection committee.
Council gathered a half hour early Monday night to address residents’ concerns about proposed changes to the SWAP committee meetings. Those proposed changes would give the superintendent of the drinking water treatment plant (a non-voting member of the committee) the responsibility of setting the committee’s meetings.
What it seemed like to the residents, though, was a move to stifle their voices and hinder their right to participate in open government.
SWAP committee member Miriam Baughman spoke before Council that night, saying the water treatment plant superintendent is a non-voting member so as to remove any conflict of interest from the meetings.
“I guess my question is, how can the water treatment plant superintendent take over calling the meetings and making the agenda? … How can he have all that power?” Baughman asked.
The SWAP committee formed, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, to assist the city in monitoring potential contamination near water production wells. On the committee are three North Canton residents (Baughman, Bob Pattison and Greg Wernet), City Administrator Michael Grimes and Rich Steinhebel, drinking water treatment plant superintendent.
“The agenda of what they discuss at those meetings is really what’s up for discussion and why we are here,” said. “The concern is a committee like this, under the umbrella of the city itself, is not a platform for other outside activities because they don’t take responsibility, or they’re not accountable for what they say.”
We need to make sure they’re discussing exactly what the committee is for.”
agreed with Baughman.
“Explain to me in depth and in detail why this is beneficial to the city and not a threat to the citizenry. Talk about a threat to our water — this kind of mindset is a threat to our citizens. You want them to participate in government, I hope. You want them to show interest, and then you turn around and orchestrate something like this?”
said Council isn’t asking the committee to disband; it only wishes to censor the committee’s agendas to ensure members aren’t speaking on behalf of North Canton.
The committee only should discuss issues relevant to monitoring potential contamination near water production wells and nothing else, Snyder said.
Still, resident Melanie Roll argued that some topics should be up for discussion, such as street sweepings. (The city came under fire for by the Stark County Health Department last year after dumping them on property off Freedom Drive NW in Jackson Township.) Roll said that topic is relevant to discussions of SWAP committee members because the sweepings could affect the safety of the city’s water depending on proximity to water production wells.
“I think you’ve opened a can of worms here by trying to strangle the committee by what they can do and not do and call the agenda and call meetings,” Roll said. “I think you caused your own problem.”
Cerreta moved that Council table the proposed changes until they speak to more committee members. Of the three citizen members, only Baughman showed to the council meeting. One member was sick and another out of the state.
All other members agreed to table the proposed changes for now.