A charter change allowing Columbus City Council to meet in closed-door meetings will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

A charter change allowing Columbus City Council to meet in closed-door meetings will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Issue 12 would give council permission to discuss a number of issues — including legal negotiations, personnel matters, land acquisitions and homeland security — in executive session.

The charter now requires all council meetings be held in public and grants no exceptions to open-meeting requirements. That means council members must meet individually while not technically forming a quorum, leading to many separate discussions and inefficiencies, Issue 12 supporters contend.

"We believe voting yes on Issue 12 will make city council more accountable and follow the letter of the law in the few instances they hold executive sessions," said Lisa Griffin, chair of Columbus Citizens for Good Government, which supports the charter change.

"And it ensures they continue to vote only in public meetings."

The change also would allow members to vet candidates for council and meet as a group in private to discuss legal issues with the city attorney. Columbus and Grove City are the only two cities in central Ohio that do not have the closed-meeting provision in their charters, Griffin said.

"When we talk to people, they are surprised to hear that," she said.

Griffin, a former city council member, also spoke to the rarity in which executive sessions are used in other municipalities.

Hilliard recently added executive-session privileges to its charter, while New Albany expanded council's reasons for entering an executive session. Hilliard has held closed-door sessions three times this year, and New Albany has held 11, she said.

"Executive sessions as provided for under state law can occur under very limited and specific circumstances," she said. "They are a useful tool on those occasions, particularly in the event of pending lawsuits or negotiating cost to purchase property for public purposes. Importantly, all votes on any and all issues must be made during normal, public council meetings."

James Moore, chair of the opposition group, Keep Council Open, said the municipalities cited by Griffin are much smaller and have different political dynamics, making it an unfair comparison.

"It's not so much whether they're going to use it or not gong to use it," Moore said. "The current council might use it sparingly, but with future councils, we don't know."

While the pro group argues that the charter change would allow council members as a group to discuss sensitive and intricate legal discussions, including those involving real estate transactions, the opposition group doesn't see it that way.

Many issues involving real estate —tax abatements, for example — are negotiated by the mayor's office and the department of development, Moore said. Council merely votes on them.

"I would just point out that the council has made moves away from transparency in the past," Moore said. "I would say this is a final move away from transparency."

On a related note, Keep Council Open filed a complaint last week with the Ohio Elections Commission, asserting that Columbus Citizens for Good Government's mailers and website knowingly contained false or misleading statements. A hearing was scheduled this week.

"There's no way closing the public out and closing the press out makes city council more accountable," Moore said.