Whether or not Steve Steel will become Toledo City Council’s chief of staff grew more uncertain this week after the city’s law department concluded a council vote is needed to fill the new position.
Former Toledo city councilman Steve Steel stands at the podium in the Toledo Council Chambers, where the public addresses the council.
Council President Matt Cherry appointed Mr. Steel — who had served on council from 2009-2017 — to the post on Aug. 29 but soon after put the nomination on hold when his colleagues raised questions about the hiring process. The taxpayer-funded job is set to pay about $78,000 annually.
Councilman Sandy Spang pointed to both the city charter and council rules as reasons for why the appointment needed to be authorized by a council vote, and the city’s legal department agreed.
The opinion, written by Assistant Law Director Adam Loukx, states that the city’s charter “does not give the President of Council hiring authority” and goes on to state “the Charter and the Council Rules clearly contemplate that hiring decisions of Council be made by a majority of the members of Council.”
Mr. Loukx sent a memo with his conclusion to Mr. Cherry on Thursday, which was then distributed to other councilmen Friday afternoon.
“As you can see in the opinion, the hiring process has kind of been all over the board,” Mr. Cherry said Friday. “I’m glad they cleared it up for us, and if we do end up hiring a chief of staff we will be taking a vote on it.”
While the law department found that a non-elected council officer must be selected by council vote, how the vote must take place was less clear. The council’s auditor, clerk of council, and sergeant-at-arms generally have been selected with a public council vote, but council aides have historically been hired by the councilmen they serve.
“It seems that selection has been accomplished in inconsistent ways throughout history. ... Regardless of the sometimes inconsistent precedent, law and policy favor a public vote on officers selected by City Council,” Mr. Loukx wrote.
Mr. Cherry said he is not yet sure if or when he’ll call for a vote on a council chief of staff in light of his colleagues’ concerns.
“What I’m going to do as the president is circle back with the 11 other members and get some feedback from them,” he said.
He said he still believes Mr. Steel is the best person for the job, a position that he said he has been discussing the need for since before he was council president.
“I need someone to be on that floor to be able to get everybody on board, to make sure that the current staff that we have are doing what they need to be doing and moving our city forward,” he said. “There’s no one that we have doing that right now, and the chief of staff position has been talked about for years.”
Mr. Steel could not be reached for comment Friday.
Councilman Rob Ludeman said he wasn’t at all surprised by the law department’s recommendation. He added that he’s “even more convinced” that there is no need for a city council chief of staff.
“I think right now we’ve got a very efficient team,” he said. “I don’t think the position is necessary. I’m watching this budget. I’m looking ahead in three years to see what it’s going to be like, this financial picture, when my tenure is done. We’ve got to really guard the general fund.”
Councilman Yvonne Harper said she, too, was not surprised by Mr. Loukx’s letter. She said the rules of council “already established” that a vote is needed.
Now, she said she hopes the council president will include his colleagues in the decision-making process.
“I’d like for him to talk to us about it and to see if we really need to go forward on this,” she said.
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