Rocky Fork Enterprise

Council ward counts won't change until November '17

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Gahanna City Council amended a prior filing with the Franklin County Board of Elections on June 3 to re-establish wards in the city, but the legislation won't become effective anytime soon.

Because the legislation wasn't approved by emergency, a proposal to more equally balance the city's four wards won't go into effect until November 2017.

Council members who voted to amend a prior filing with the Board of Elections to re-establish wards were Stephen Renner, Ryan Jolley, Brian Larick, David Samuel and Brandon Wright. Council members Karen Angelou and Beryl Anderson dissented.

Because of city charter requirements, city attorney Shane Ewald said, the legislation had to pass June 3 by emergency, requiring six affirmative votes. The next time council could redistrict will be 2017.

The city charter states the geographic definition of the ward areas would be balanced to the extent practicable based on numbers of registered voters. They would be established by ordinance, taking effect 60 days prior to the petition filing deadline for the election of ward council members and to remaining effective for the term of the positions.

Ewald worked with council leadership and the elections board after an issue developed with council's ward proposal that was submitted to the board late last year.

Although the board accepted the proposed new ward boundaries, a wavier was denied by the Secretary of State's Office in February. As a result, the elections board rescinded acceptance of the new ward boundaries.

Ewald said the state didn't approve a waiver for a section of Gahanna that crosses a census block -- specifically, a census block along Cherry Bottom Road that runs through three different wards and three different precincts.

The resolution was to move that entire census block into Ward 2, in addition to a few precinct moves. The proposal would have put about 6,250 voters in each ward, except Ward 2, which would have been slightly higher.

Ewald said the map council had proposed and sent to the elections board last year was used as a base and modified to resolve the issue of crossing the census block.

Currently, the ward breakdown is as follows: Ward 1, 6,438 voters; Ward 2, 7,036; Ward 3, 6,092; and Ward 4, 5,646.

Angelou, Jolley and Samuel served on a special committee last year to examine the wards in an effort to balance the numbers of registered voters. The group also worked under the premise that no Republican or Democratic committeemen would be displaced as a result of the change.

Angelou has said confusion has surfaced about ward changes following the secretary of state's denial of the waiver. She didn't want to establish new wards but instead go with the ones the elections board had returned to 2003 numbers.

Jolley said council has been working on the wards for more than a year.

"Our charter states the wards are to be balanced, and right now they're anything but," he said. "The plan before us tonight, as amended, brings the standard deviation to 110 voters. It eliminates 80 percent of the disparity."

Jolley said the proposed plan would meet the goals to make minimal changes, balance the wards and not unseat elected central committee members.

"It's slightly different than we had," he said. "One precinct was moved and part of another. Two weeks ago, we heard how we shouldn't waste money for a fireworks contract. To date we spent $5,000 surveying lines for this legislation. I find it incredible anyone on this council would vote against legislation that accomplishes the goals we worked on for a year. It would waste $5,000 of taxpayer money and blatantly violate our sworn duty for the charter of the city."

Anderson said there's always room for interpretation when it comes to policy legislation.

"The bottom line is that interpretation is key," she said. "Each of us is going to bring our viewpoint, background and education. It's part of the democratic process. Everyone has their own view."

Wright said he's passionate about wards, and it's a disservice not to balance the wards this year.

"It's out of whack -- not by a little," he said. "It's by a lot. Ward 2 has more than 1,400 voters than the next ward. The charter says the wards should be balanced. When we go into the election this year, they will be unbalanced a lot."

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