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Home Rule Question WiIl Be On The Spring Ballot In Ottawa

City of Ottawa

Ottawa will be asking its citizens whether they want home rule status for the city.  The City Council voted at its Jan. 17 meeting to put the question on the April 4 ballot.

Home Rule status would grant the city more flexibility to raise taxes. But according to the Ottawa Times, Mayor Robert Eschenbach says the city's desire for home rule isn't about that. He says it's about freeing the city from state restrictions that hinder the local government's ability to serve its citizens, such as providing cheaper internet access to residents.  

Eschenbach says the move will also give the city more flexibility on other fronts, including hiring.  He cites the city's efforts to remedy a high turnover among fire and police dispatchers. He says that's been hindered because Ottawa must follow state civil-service restrictions that won't allow officials to give preference for experience.  Home rule status would give the city more leeway.  

Eschenbach points out that a number of area communities like Utica, which is much smaller, have home rule.  And he says, ultimately, it makes the city more accountable to its citizens for its actions.  

According to the state constitution, municipalities with a population above 25,000 automatically have home rule status. But smaller communities like Ottawa, with a population of 18,000, can vote for home rule status for their towns by referendum.  

And it can go the other way.  Rockford used to have home rule, but the city's residents voted to revoke the status in 1983, and efforts since then to restore it have failed.