City of Kent
Wednesday October 4, 2023
City Council Committee Meetings
320 S. Depeyster Street, Kent, OH 44240
Democracy Day Public Hearing
At 6:00 p.m. Mayor Fiala called the Democracy Day Public Hearing to order.
Present: Mr. Jack Amrhein, Mr. Michael DeLeone, Mr. John Kuhar, Ms. Gwen
Rosenberg, Ms. Heidi Shaffer Bish (6:16 p.m.),Mr. Roger Sidoti, Mr. Robin
Also Present: Mr. Jerry T. Fiala, Mayor, and President of Council; Mr. Dave Ruller, City
Manager; Ms. Hope Jones, Law Director; Ms. Bridget Susel, Community
Development Director; Ms. Melanie Baker, Service Director; Mr. Jim Bowling,
City Engineer; Ms. Joan Seidel, Health Commissioner; Ms. Rhonda Hall,
Budget and Finance Director; Mr. Nick Shearer, Chief of Police; Ms. Suzanne
Stemnock, Director of Human Resources; Ms. Amy Wilkens, Clerk of
Absent: Mr. Garret Ferrara, Ms. Tracy Wallach
MOTION TO TO EXCUSE MR. FERRARA AND MS. WALLACH FROM THE DEMOCRACY DAY PUBLIC HEARING MADE BY Ms. Gwen Rosenberg, SECONDED by Mr. Roger Sidoti and CARRIED by a voice vote of 7-0-0.
Mayor Fiala welcomed everyone to the Democracy Day Public Hearing being held by Kent City Council. The purpose of this hearing is to examine the impact of political influence resulting from campaign contributions by corporate entities. He instructed participants to provide their names and addresses for the record and to speak clearly. Each speaker is allowed five minutes to express their concerns and are encouraged to submit their concerns in writing if available.
Before the first speaker, Mr. Bill Wilen thanked City Council for the opportunity to speak on the topic this evening and introduced the first speaker, Mr. Greg Coleridge.
Mr. Greg Coleridge, Somerton Road in Cleveland Hts. Ohio, is the co-director of "Move to Amend," introduces his role in the national campaign. The campaign's goal is to enact an amendment called the "We the People" amendment, currently in the House of Representatives. This amendment aims to abolish two constitutional doctrines: the notion that political money spent on elections equals free speech and the concept that a corporation is a legal person. (Attachment #1)
Mr. Bill Wilen of Stonewater Street, Kent, was the next speaker. One of his main concerns is the significant influence of large corporations in the political arena. These corporations not only financially support candidates running for office but also use their financial resources to influence the decisions made by those elected officials. He provides specific examples, mentioning big oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobil and Shell, who pour substantial amounts of money into elections to achieve their policy goals. (Attachment #2)
Ms. Barb Hipsman Springer of Gardenview Street, Kent was next to speak. She shifts the focus to honoring Tim Smith, a lawyer and professor who had a significant role as an open records authority both nationally and locally. She expressed deep respect and fondness for Tim Smith, highlighting his contributions. She then mentions that their message differs from the previous speaker's and is more locally oriented. She emphasized that the issues of democracy and control by big money extend to various parts of society. She has a background in journalism, starting by covering small villages and towns, moving to the state house, and serving as a judiciary official for 28 years. She also taught public affairs, and some of her students had interactions with current council members. Ms. Hipsman Springer underscores the importance of considering the impact of big business and dark money on local democracy and the transparency of democracy within their town. She said these factors may have adverse effects on the community's democratic processes. (Attachment #3)
The final speaker came to the microphone. Mr. Andrew Rome, the Director of Haymaker Farmers Market in Kent, introduced himself and expressed gratitude to the city council, organizers, and advocates for Democracy Day for providing an opportunity to address local government on community issues. Rome clarifies that Haymaker Farmers Market's focus isn't on the issue of big corporations influencing government. Instead, they emphasize that Haymaker is a 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit public charity with a mission to connect local food producers and consumers in a vibrant, sustainable community gathering place. They aim to provide direct access to food, education, and the arts. Rome sees this connection between people in Kent as essential and highlights their commitment to fostering relationships, which contrasts with a big corporate model that prioritizes profits over people. (Attachment#4)
MOTION TO ADJOURN THE PUBLIC HEARING WAS MADE BY Mr. Michael DeLeone, SECONDED by Ms. Gwen Rosenberg and CARRIED by a voice vote of 7-0-0.
After the public hearing adjourned at 6:22 p.m., Mr. Sidoti expressed curiosity about what people have taken away from these discussions over the years and questioned whether they should consider taking their efforts to a higher level or a different platform.
Ms. Shaffer Bish acknowledges missing most of a presentation but highlights the importance of creating alternatives and empowering citizens, emphasizing the value of citizen participation.
Mr. Sidoti discussed the need to differentiate between supporting small businesses and being critical of large corporations. He believes there should be a shift in the conversation to support pro-business policies while opposing corporate influence in politics
Another participant mentions the challenges of discussing being pro-business while opposing corporate influence, stressing that small businesses are vital and often negatively affected by corporate control of politics.
The conversation continued, touching on retirement investments in corporations, the complexity of tracking financial investments, and the idea that big money should not be treated as a voting entity.