Columbus Coalition For Responsive Government Prepares To Submit Proposed Charter Amendment To Change City Council

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(Columbus, OH)-July 2, 2015- The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (the Coalition), a grassroots citizens’ ballot initiative announces today it is preparing to submit petition signatures to revamp Columbus City Council. The Coalition will submit 26,870 signatures to the City Clerk on Tuesday, July 7th.

By submitting these signatures, the Coalition is seeking a vote on its Columbus City Council Reform Amendment, to improve the operations of the city council.

The city charter allows citizens to propose amendments to the city charter (equivalent to the city’s constitution), if citizens can gather 10% of the signatures of electors who voted in the last municipal election. The Coalition’s signature requirement was 89,571 electors voted in the last municipal General Election, which requires 8,957 signatures. The Coalition has gathered 28,950 signatures, and will be submitting 26,870 signatures (3 times the required n umber) to the city for validation by the Board of Election.

Since a charter amendment was implemented in 1916, for the past 100 y ears, the City of Columbus council has been comprised of 7 members elected in city-wide elections (Prior to 1916, the council had 19 members elected from council districts). However, the city’s population has grown from 181,500 people to over 800,000 people, and its geography has increased from 24 square miles to over 225 square miles. “It is unrealistic to believe that the same number of people – 7 – can adequately represent as large and diverse a community as Columbus has become, and we see those representational strains in our neighborhoods evidenced regularly,” says Jonathan C. Beard, the Chair of the Coalition. Indeed, according to the Coalition, the average city council among the largest 50 cities is 13 members – 11 members elected by district and 2 members elected at large.  As the 15th largest city, Columbus has the smallest elected body – indeed smaller than every big city in Ohio except Dayton.

Columbus has benefited from decisions of generations ago: the Sensenbrenner water/sewer annexation policy that allowed the city to continue to grow and develop new tax base, the presence of state government, and the presence of the largest university in the nation. These growth drivers – not any collection of 7 individuals serving on council – are what have helped Columbus prosper.

The Coalition believes that in order for the city to remain prosperous and stable, the quality of life in each community must be maximized, and it is simply unrealistic to expect that every council member knows the people and issues in each of Columbus’s 200 recognized neighborhoods.

The proposed amendment is designed to enhance representation of Columbus neighborhoods by city council. It moves the council from a 7 member body, all elected in city wide (“at large”) elections, to an 11 member body, with 7 members elected by the residents of the districts in which each lives and 4 members elected by all residents in city wide elections.

What you will hear from the council spokespeople is a simplistic notion that citizens should elect all their council members—The Coalition questions the purpose this serves when most city residents can’t name and have never met or known 3 members – much less name or know all 7. When we don’t know the council members we are voting for, we are voting blind. Instead, by having members who live in the districts they represent, we will have members who know the people and the issues, and who can be known by the people they represent.

Further benefits accrue because smaller district elections are less expensive and the charter amendment would create some public funding of elections, including debates and access to city-controlled TV time – designed to lead to robust political debates, more candidates, more competition, and council members more likely to provide outstanding public service as a result. An additional benefit is that candidates would not be put in uncomfortable position of needing corporate donations from entities doing business with the city to get their message to the voters, increasing public trust in governance.

Under the proposal, the 7 districts would be drawn by a 9 member apportionment board authorized by council after each decennial election. To protect against political gerrymandering, no more than 3 members may be from the same political party.

“We believe the citizens of Columbus deserve fair and competitive elections,” says Beard, “and the proposed charter amendment supports that goal.”

The Coalition plans to submit the petition signatures to City Clerk Angie Blevins on Monday, July 6th, and then to hold a press conference on Tuesday, July 7th. Final details will be released later.

For more information about the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government and the Columbus City Council Reform Amendment, please visit www.ColumbusCoalition.info or call Jonathan Beard at 614-395-1946.

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