Dayton-county merger could mean fewer politicians, former mayor says

County Commissioner Dan Foley plans to unveil plans for Dayton-Montgomery County merger on Thursday.

One of the results of a merger of the city of Dayton and Montgomery County governments could be fewer local politicians and bureaucrats, said the co-chair of a group seeking the consolidation.

“People who are currently in the political system understand that there will be – or could be – fewer politicians in the community. There could be fewer patronage jobs in the community, said Paul Leonard, former Dayton mayor and former lieutenant governor who is co-chairing the effort along with Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley.

Foley and Leonard are both Democrats, but not all Democrats like the idea of merging the governments.

Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens said Tuesday he sent Foley a harsh letter after he wasn’t satisfied with the results of repeated conversations.

“We have chatted and he kind of dug in his heals,” Owens said. “We asked him to slow down, to bring more people into this.”

The new merger effort organized by Foley, called Dayton Together, came to light earlier this week when Owens criticized the plan in the unusually blunt letter to fellow Democrat Foley.

“I think what Mark’s probably doing – and again, it’s understandable – is he’s protecting his troops,” Leonard said.

Owens said before Foley reveals more details of the effort at a news conference on Thursday the party leader wanted to make sure the county commissioner knew, “not only my objections but objections of Democrats across this county board.”

Leonard said the organization working on a potential new local government met for the first time last week and started working on the first key charter question: which of two approaches to take to unify the governments.

Consolidation can be by a traditional merger or it can be accomplished “by the city basically liquidating, or backing away from providing services and then delegating those responsibilities to the county,” Leonard said.

The public will have ample time to digest the document produced by the committee, which Leonard anticipates will be ready in December. The committee is registered as a 501 (c)4 organization, a status often used by political action committees that conduct lobbying and campaigning. Leonard said the group would likely campaign to put the issue on the ballot in 2016.

A charter measure would go to every voter in Montgomery County, including Dayton’s suburbs, which concerns Owens.

“Dan’s plan as related to me is he wants to have regionalism, which we are all for, but his form of regionalism is just merging the city of Dayton with Montgomery County, which means 140,000 that live in the city right now would become just part of the county and would lose their own local government,” Owens said. “Everybody else in the county would maintain what they already have. If you’re living in Kettering, or Huber Heights or Vandalia or Washington Twp. you still get to vote for your trustees or your mayor, but Dayton would lose all that.”

The bigger picture and primary motivation for merging is about forming partnerships and smoothing the way for economic development, Leonard said.

“The standard across the board is more efficient economic development. Most chambers of commerce would tell you that when a business is thinking about coming to your community, if they have to deal with multiple governments in the community in order to locate a business it slows down the economic development process,” Leonard said. “There are different tax structures you have to deal with, different elected officials you have to deal with. It really slows down the economic development process. Most businesses when they come to a state would like to talk to one entity and one entity alone and make it a one-stop-shopping situation for the business.”

Any Montgomery County community may join the consolidation plans now, but most all will opt to sit on the sidelines and see how the effort goes with Dayton and Montgomery County, Leonard said. Or, some localities may be forced off the sidelines in the future by an unpredictable economy and fewer state funds.

“A lot depends on whether or not there’s buy-in from the other communities. Right now the project we’re working on would only consolidate the Montgomery county government and the city of Dayton government, but it would leave the option open at both present and in the future for other communities in Montgomery county that might see financial trouble on the horizon,” Leonard said.

A committee list obtained by the Dayton Daily News contains several area elected officials, though none on the list are current Dayton office holders.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said Tuesday she stays in the loop with Foley on city-county issues but was unaware of the Dayton Together launch.

“I talk to Dan about twice a week, we’ve just never talked about this,” Whaley said. “I think that the relationship the city has with the county is a good one but we don’t know anything about the details of this prospect.”

Karl Keith, the county’s Democratic auditor, said he too was in the dark about the most recent merger talk

“Every few years this issue seems to surface and it always seems to be heaped in secrecy.”

Keith said the city and county can work together to share services, but he sees no need to combine the governments completely. He called it “a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Staff writers Natalie Jovonovich and Josh Sweigart contributed to this report.

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