A ballot initiative designed to create ward representation on Columbus City Council is inching closer to inclusion in the general election, according to a group supporting the charter amendment.

A ballot initiative designed to create ward representation on Columbus City Council is inching closer to inclusion in the general election, according to a group supporting the charter amendment.

John Beard, spokesman for the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government, said the organization has more than half the required number of valid signatures - 9,582 - to put the issue on the fall ballot.

The coalition wants the city to change the council structure from seven at-large members to 11 total: four at-large members and seven district representatives.

The ballot initiative also calls for the creation of a nine-member, multi-partisan apportionment board, which would draw boundaries after every decennial census.

Beard said the current system has become "very much an entrenched, insider's game."

"Government is too far removed from (average citizens)," he said. "They don't have a voice and it's become too much of a club."

Creating a ward system has been a contentious issue with city leaders over the years. The last time it reached the ballot, in 1975, it was defeated.

Dave Paul, past president of the Northland Community Council, said he is worried about the gridlock and parochialism that can accompany ward representation.

"I'm not convinced that the system we have now is so broken that we need to replace it with a system that's been shown to be problematic in other communities," said Paul, also a commissioner for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, an unpaid position.

Beard chided the defense of the status quo and noted that 47 of the country's 50 largest cities have some type of ward system. The current model, he said, is outdated in a city that is five times bigger than it was when the present charter was adopted nearly 100 years ago.

He argues that Columbus is insular and exclusionary, making it difficult for people with different voices and ideas to serve. He criticizes the lack of independent thought, saying that nearly every piece of legislation is approved unanimously.

Moreover, Beard said, the charter change would make it less expensive for candidates to run in a ward race. Now, citywide race expenses can climb to $250,000, putting anybody without party support at a significant financial disadvantage, he said.

The coalition is taking its message of a ward system to the streets, discussing the issue with neighborhood groups and using social media to get the word out, he said.

Rosemarie Lisko, a member of the Northwest Civic Association, is on board with the charter change. She said the current process has become too exclusive and she doesn't think it represents the neighborhoods.

"I think it's an excellent idea and should have been done a long time ago," she said. "I think you have to have someone who lives in your area representing your concerns and your welfare."

James R. Blazer II, the District 3 representative on the Clintonville Area Commission - which elects its members from within specific geographic areas of the neighborhood - said he was not sure if the charter change would be right for Columbus.

"It sounds like something I'd be interested in looking at, but I don't know if it's something that would work for Columbus," Blazer said. "Council seems to be running well, and I don't know if this would make it any more efficient, any more representative."

Democrats have been in full control of city council for the better part of a decade.

Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, said the party is watching the proposed charter change but not throwing its support behind it just yet.

"It's a daunting effort to change that," he said.

Registered Democrats in the city outnumber Republicans by a 3.5-to-1 margin, so a change could work to the GOP's advantage, Preisse said.

"The fact is when you're up against those odds, it's very difficult to elect anybody citywide," he said. "We haven't given up but it's very, very tough. It would be very likely Republicans would have a better chance if there was some alternate or perhaps mixed (representation)."

Beard said the coalition hopes to have the valid signatures to the city clerk by the end of June.

All charter amendments must be approved by voters.

- ThisWeek reporter Kevin Parks contributed to this story.