Rocky Fork Enterprise

Ward reconfiguration

Divided council moves effective date for boundaries

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

After lengthy debate, Gahanna City Council amended legislation during a Nov. 25 special meeting to make ward boundaries effective in 2014 instead of 2017.

Council members Brian Larick, Ryan Jolley, Stephen Renner and Brandon Wright voted in favor of the ordinance, with Beryl Anderson, Karen Angelou and Tom Kneeland dissenting.

The legislation approved by council will be sent to the Franklin County Board of Elections for consideration during its Dec. 9 meeting.

Wright brought the matter back to council several weeks ago because, he said, the city's wards are very unbalanced in number.

Council last tried to amend legislation in June to make the boundaries effective prior to November's election but lacked the needed votes for emergency passage to meet deadline requirements.

Council clerk Isobel Sherwood said the legislation approved Nov. 25 only amends city code to move the already established boundaries to be effective in January.

Council member Brian Larick said the city charter is clear that the requirement is to equalize the size of the wards.

"This simply follows through with the charter, from my perspective," he said.

Angelou said making the boundaries effective in 2017 works beautifully.

"That's when the next ward race takes place," she said. "We can revisit before 2017."

Council president Stephen Renner said Angelou is entitled to her opinion, but the charter states the wards have to be balanced.

"Not at some future point," he said. "It says to balance now. We're taking corrective action. They are way out now. That's simply what this action is."

Kneeland asked how long council has been working on the issue, saying he recently was appointed to fill a seat left vacant by David Samuel's resignation.

Jolley said a special committee was formed in early 2012, and it has been an 18-month process.

Councilman-elect Michael Schnetzer said he's concerned the legislation could confuse constituents.

"My concern is more with the human element," he said.

Jolley said it simply is a matter of clarification.

"I think it's important to clarify, we're simply talking about a date when new ward boundaries go into effect," Jolley said. "No one is having their vote nullified. You'd still represent those who voted for you. This doesn't change who you represent. We can't change your term you've been elected to."

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.

City attorney Shane Ewald worked with council leadership and the elections board after an issue developed with council's ward proposal that was submitted in late 2012.

Although the board accepted the proposed new ward boundaries, a waiver was rejected by the Ohio 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 crossed 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 changes were incredibly minimal," Jolley said. "It's the same maps worked out after the fact to meet the federal requirements. Lines don't cross census blocks. Two council members felt the imposition of the requirements from the Secretary of State infringed on us as a home-rule municipality."

Angelou said ward boundaries established in the past always went through with a waiver. She took issue with the process after the waiver was denied.

"I felt it should have come back to the committee," Angelou said.

Schnetzer said he should be able to vote symbolically on the issue, though his vote wouldn't count officially.

"If you'd ask my vote on this, I'd vote against it," he said. "At least, symbolically, let incoming council people vote because it affects our constituents."

Jolley said new members aren't sworn in until Jan. 2, and Wright has been passionate about the issue.

Wright lost his bid for re-election to council in November.

"We never should've waited on this in the first place," Jolley said.

He said council has spent close to $5,000 because the map and legal language were submitted twice to the board of elections at a cost of about $2,500 each time.

Comments