German Village Gazette

Columbus City charter review commission: No wards

Proponents of a ward system are collecting signatures to get issue on the ballot

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The Columbus Charter Review Commission has recommended against creating wards or a combination of wards and at-large representation on city council.

At a public hearing July 9 in City Council chambers, members of the commission said the current structure of seven at-large representatives is effective and doesn't need to be altered.

City Auditor Hugh Dorrian, a member of the commission, said the system has "proven to work pretty well since its establishment in 1914," when the charter was adopted by citizens of Columbus.

"I think dividing into wards would bring divisiveness to the city," said Dorrian, who was also part of charter review commission in 1998 that advised against the measure.

The issue of wards, or districts, has been a hot topic from time to time over many years.

Most recently, the Columbus Coalition for a Responsive Government led an unsuccessful petition drive to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.

Jon Beard, president of the coalition, said the group is collecting signatures to get the ward legislation on a future ballot.

"It comes up every several years and that means there's something there in the argument," Beard said. "A broad group of citizenry thinks (wards) can make it better."

The five-member commission recently presented its report to Columbus City Council, which will decide which of the 21 proposed amendments -- 19 recommended for action -- will appear on the ballot this fall.

Council spokesman John Ivanic said council is likely to act on the recommendations before its August break.

The commission, appointed by Mayor Michael B. Coleman and Council President Andy Ginther, was charged with giving a thorough review of the charter, the city's constitution.

It has been more than a decade since the charter was given such a close examination. It was last amended in 2010. The commission held nine meetings, two of which were public hearings.

Commission members included co-chairmen Mike Curtin, a Democratic state representative from Marble Cliff; Marchelle Moore, vice president of legal and government affairs and general counsel for the Central Ohio Transit Authority; Jeff Cabot, executive director of Kids Voting Central Ohio; Dawn Tyler Lee, senior vice president of community impact for United Way of Central Ohio; and Dorrian.

Commission members explained many of the proposed changes were meant to streamline certain areas of the code, bring charter language up to modern standards and make substantive amendments.

A proposed amendment also would tighten the petition process.

For example, petitions would require the valid signatures representing 5 percent of the total votes cast in the previous mayoral election.

In addition, within 14 days of a petition being submitted, council would determine the validity of the petition.

With any ordinance placing a referendum on the ballot, the council can assign arguments of no more than 200 words, printed side by side in support or opposition of the referendum.

Beard said that sounds like a "crazy overreach to me."

Council already makes its arguments while deliberating the adoption or rejection of a ballot issue.

"To me, it seems like a power grab," Beard said. "People know how to make their own arguments.

"That's what campaigns are for. That's what elections are for."

Among the other changes proposed by the panel:

* Adopt an equal rights amendment, whereby the charter should offer clear protection against discrimination in city services and employment based on things such as race, sexual orientation and religion.

* Make all public bodies of the city, even advisory groups such as area commissions, subject to open meeting laws.

* Convene the charter review commission, by law, every 10 years.

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