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With the August special election less than a month away, Columbus citizens want to know if Issue 1 is the answer to  restructuring the Columbus City Council, ensuring representation for the interests of their communities.

On Wednesday night, Central Ohio Young Black Democrats  (COYBD) in partnership with the State Of The Community hosted a community conversation at the Columbus Metropolitan Library on the upcoming August 2nd special election. The focus was on Issue 1. One Columbus (“NO”) and Represent Columbus (“YES”) both provided information and presented their stances on the issue.

What is Issue 1?

Issue 1 is a citizen-led initiative that would change the Columbus City Council into wards made up of 85,000 residents per district. The wards would be drawn by a commission picked by the mayor and current council members. The new ward system takes the City Council from seven citywide members to 13, with 10 from specific districts and three at-large members.

Speaking on behalf of Represent Columbus was 7th Ward County Democratic Central Committee Member Willis E. Brown, Attorney Bryan L Potts, and CEO and President of Columbus Compact Jonathan Beard. The trio claimed that Issue 1 would give voters greater representation. Council members could cater to a concentrated population as opposed to the current system where all seven members represent the whole city. It is widely held across the city that many residents are unhappy with the Columbus City Council, as minority communities tend to get less help while others like German village and Short North are thriving.

But One Columbus’ member James Ragland said that for African American communities Issue 1 is a hard gamble. According to Ragland, voters will not know how the districts will be drawn until 30 days after the ward system is instituted. One of the fears is that under Issue 1, communities with like interests could be broken up, causing further disenfranchisement and less representation than they have now. This would have a detrimental effect on communities that are already struggling with limited resources. One Columbus also feels the issue was rushed without any community input.

Throughout the night, COYBD members collected questions from the crowd. The majority of citizens directed their concerns specifically towards Represent Columbus, rightfully so, as they were hoping to grasp a better understanding of why their side believes Issue 1 is the answer.

“What does Issue 1 do for me?”

Attorney Potts of Represent Columbus responded that “you can go out and run as a regular person,” and he expressed that running a campaign focused on a smaller portion of residents is easier and less expensive than running one citywide. Potts also took the opportunity to clear up confusion about the maps not being drawn. He claims that current law doesn’t allow for preliminary maps to be drawn ahead of time.

Ragland responded to the same question with a slightly different perspective. Quoting a Public Enemy line, “Don’t believe the hype,” Ragland said that Issue 1 is a charter amendment; therefore, “if they wanted to add a map then they could have. They could have written it into the proposal.”

When asked how Issue 1 will affect the distribution of wealth, Ragland responded that the distribution stays the same, claiming Issue 1 does nothing to help in that area. But Represent Columbus claimed that it, in fact, doesn’t affect the distribution of wealth, but rather it affects the influence of wealth on distribution.

“How might Issue 1 hurt Columbus?”

The affirmative reminded everyone that the opposition continues to bring up the price for affording a new system, but that the Mayor has already introduced a charter review in order to combat Issue 1. “Where are they going to get the money for that? It’s always a problem when it comes from the people,” said Brown.

“What if my council member doesn’t get the job done? The at-large members will have their own thousand to focus on.”

Represent Columbus held that it would be easier to remove them because a ward system means that it would no longer be a city-wide vote. On the contrary, One Columbus simply replied, “look at Detroit.” He went on further to say that with the current city council system, we, the people, have the power and the ability to vote out anyone that we don’t like and that there is a responsibility on the citizens to advocate for their needs.

From the abundance of “mhm,” “amen,” “right,” and “exactly” comments that erupted from the crowd just about equally for both panels, the room seemed to be split.

Ragland wrapped up the discussion by telling voters that Issue 1 has too many holes: no maps, broken up communities, and higher campaign costs in places like Seattle, where ward systems have been adopted, and the process had been rushed.

The three gentlemen that have been pushing a “YES” vote on Issue 1 insisted that Columbus needed a change: better representation and smaller districts, and with 36,000 signatures Issue 1 was what the people wanted.

If you missed the last one, the next forum will be Wednesday, July 20 at 6:30 PM – 8 PM

Make an informed decision in August. More on Issue 1:

Represent Columbus | One Columbus |Central Ohio Young Black Dems | State of the Community

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