There’s A Special Election Being Held August 2nd
On May 23, 2016, City Council moved to hold a special election for the City of Columbus on August 2nd. This election is focused on Issue 1, a proposed charter amendment aimed at restructuring our current City Council. Presently, the Columbus City Council is comprised of 7 citywide at-large members, a system that has been in place since 1914. However, Issue 1 calls for neighborhood specific representatives which will expand the Council to 13 members; 10 neighborhood members and 3 at-large members. This proposed plan also calls for the creation of Council districts within Columbus.
These Council districts will be created by an independent committee. The Mayor and Council will each appoint 3 members: 2 democrats, 2 republicans, and 2 independent or other minority party members. These 6 members will then appoint the remaining 3 members to the committee. Committee members may not be elected officials, candidates for office, lobbyists, or city employees and will be subjected to Ohio’s transparency and open record laws.
The Players Behind The Bill
For Issue 1
Let’s take a look at the major players behind Issue 1. Represent Columbus is the grassroots organization that brought the proposal along with 38,000 signatures to the Board of Elections. Co-Founders Jonathan Beard and Whitney Smith, a republican candidate for the 18th Ohio House District, believe that City Council needs to accurately represent Columbus, and this means increasing the number of representatives and requiring 10 seats to be filled by community members of the new Council districts. The goal is for the new Council to be elected in November 2017 but considering the time it will take to form the apportionment board and draw the boundaries, the new Council may not be seated until 2019.
Against Issue 1
The opposition to Issue 1 is led by One Columbus, whose campaign manager is Bryan Clark, former campaign manager for Mayor Andrew Ginther. They believe that with this new system special election spending will skyrocket and a larger City Council will be more expensive overall. Our current City Council members and Council President earn annual salaries of $52,585 and $63,259 respectively. By expanding Council to 13 members we will spend an additional $387,000 on the part-time salaries of Council members, bringing the total to almost $1,000,000 per year due to the 4% pay increase that will take effect in 2018. Issue 1 plans for Council to expand to 25 members as the population increases which would result in $1,462,000 spent on salaries alone.
The Controversy Surrounding Issue 1
Tensions flared at the May 23 Council meeting when the issue was presented. The issue had to be added to the agenda to be voted upon which was merely a formality due to the Board of Elections previous approval. Supporters of Issue 1 were asked to refrain from applause after Represent Columbus members spoke. Also during the meeting, Councilman Stinziano accused Smith of using the organization as a front for a Republican-funded initiative.
So what’s all the fuss about? What’s wrong with expanding our City Council? There’s nothing wrong with wanting representation for our neighborhoods. In fact, neighborhoods such as Hilltop and Milo Grove have supported expanding Council in the past. The problem Columbus is facing is how we plan to execute the representation. With Issue 1 the Council districts will not be drawn until after the amendment passes. This means that voters will be voting on Council districts that they have not even seen. The goal of Issue 1 supporters is to improve diversity in the Council and meet area specific needs. However, Columbus has over 200 recognized neighborhoods in which Smith of Represent Columbus was corrected on at the City Council meeting when she stated that Columbus had only 20 neighborhoods. This means that with Columbus’s current population of about 850,000 each Council districts will need to include 85,000 residents. However, Columbus’s current neighborhoods and districts as we know them range from populations of 236 in Holtzman to 66,789 in the Northland area. Columbus’s uneven growth will require neighborhoods to be combined to fit into the prescribed 10 Council districts under Issue 1. When thinking about the cultural distinctiveness of each neighborhood and even financial differences regarding income and property value, this can be problematic. In 1975, Columbus voters rejected a similar Council districts proposal.
Whether you agree with the amendment proposal as is or believe that it should be changed, it has certainly caught the attention of City officials. Council member Shannon Hardin and Mayor Andrew Ginther met at Westgate Recreation Center on July 6 for the formation of the Charter Review Committee to have a conversation about how City Council should look and function as community input is “at the crux of this process,” Hardin stated in a press release. Regardless, if Issue 1 passes or fails, it has gotten all of us thinking about the current and future function of our local government. Learn more about each position on their Facebook pages below and be sure to read the actual language of Issue 1. Early voting has already begun, and be sure that your voice is heard!