Changing City Council
Coalition vows to keep pursuing charter amendment
The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government says it's down -- but not out.
Amid suspicions that one of its paid petition circulators forged signatures, the group said it will move ahead with plans to change the representative form of City Council.
"This is not over by a long shot," said Jonathan Beard, spokesman for the coalition, which failed to get a proposed charter change -- creating a mix of ward and at-large representation -- on the fall ballot.
The Franklin County Board of Elections said June 9 that of 26,870 signatures submitted by the coalition, 8,471 (31.5 percent) were valid.
The Columbus charter required 19,164 signatures -- 10 percent of the total number of people who voted in the most recent municipal election -- to place the issue on the general election ballot.
Furthermore, the board rejected 650 signatures as "not genuine" when they didn't match the signature on a voter registration form or because it appeared signatures for multiple voters were submitted in one handwriting style.
Karen Cotton of the board of elections said Monday, July 16, there were questionable signatures on all of the submitted petitions.
"We have further investigating to do before we make a determination of whether to forward this case to the prosecutor," said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the board of elections.
Piscitelli said the circulators listed on the petitions are Shana Carson, Eleanor Suber, Kenneth Herring and Ruby Brooks. A fifth circulator signed a partial signature, "Kath," but the last name was illegible, he said.
Beard, who did not dispute the allegation, said the group independently verified as many signatures as it could, but the volume "overwhelmed us. We didn't have time to check."
Meanwhile, the group is firm in its resolve to create a system that would include seven ward representatives and four at-large members, Beard said.
Council currently has seven at-large members.
"There are other paths to the ballot," Beard said. "The issue doesn't go away."
He said he's encouraged the coalition was able to collect the number of signers it did.
"There is tremendous interest in this," Beard said.
The same day the signatures were disqualified, City Council as a formality voted to not place the issue on the ballot.
Council has not taken an official position on the issue.
However, President Andy Ginther has personally spoken against the concept of ward representation.
Beard said it is continually disappointing that Council won't place the issue on the ballot and let the voters decide. The coalition will work with a professional organization to work toward another ballot issue, he said.
In the meantime, he said, the group will ask local neighborhood groups to put pressure on Council to put the charter change on the ballot. In addition, the group will address the appointment process and term limits, Beard said
The coalition also will work toward opt-in campaign finance reform, he said.
Keep Columbus Strong, which recently formed to oppose the coalition's efforts, will remain in place and follow any future charter-change discussion, said Dave Paul, a member of the Northland Community Council and one of six co-chairmen of the group.
"We anticipate there will be continuing conversation about this issue," Paul said.
"We're not opposed to that," he said. "I think we'll be part of that conversation."