Officials at odds over funding for information campaign
Reynoldsburg City Council's finance committee is expected to discuss a proposal Sept. 16 from Auditor Richard Harris, who asked the full council Sept. 9 to consider spending $17,000 on an information campaign about city finances.
The proposal, which Harris sent to council members over the weekend, already has him at odds with council President Doug Joseph.
Joseph said Tuesday, Sept. 10, that he is not in favor of the idea because he thinks it could be interpreted as using taxpayer money to promote the city's proposed 1-percent income tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot.
According to Joseph, the second part of the proposal would allocate $10,000 for campaign literature, signs and other efforts to promote the passage of the income tax levy.
"I thought $17,000 was a bit high, but my major concern was that the information piece was being linked with the political campaign to spend $10,000 to advocate passage of the issue," Joseph said.
"My issue was that citizens would not see the difference between city dollars being used to paint a narrative that the city is in need of dollars and a political campaign that would advocate a 'yes' vote on that ordinance."
Harris said Tuesday the money involved would come from two separate sources.
The $17,000 is city money that would pay for an information piece only, he said.
"The city would pay for a piece that would be information only and it would have to be approved by the city attorney, who would confirm that the piece contained facts about the city and its needs," Harris said.
He said the $10,000 was "absolutely not city money."
According to Harris, those funds were raised outside for a support campaign, "so there are no shackles on that money" and it could be used for campaign signs and campaign literature.
"It is not illegal to do it this way and the city attorney says it is not," Harris said. "This is how school boards and other communities often do this. We are allowed to send out information to our residents in this way."
Joseph said he has no problem "with us going out and raising private-sector dollars to campaign for the issue and I am not against an informational effort that lets people know this is what our revenues have been and our expenditures -- that is fine, but it could also be done on our city website.
"I don't like spending $17,000 to tell citizens we don't have any money," he added. "This is why people are cynical about government."
If the city wants to do an information campaign, Joseph said, any ordinance should deal only with that.
However, he said, he fears that if such an ordinance were passed, council members would be be "undercutting their own efforts" by giving people opposed to any tax issue a chance to say the city is spending tax dollars to promote a tax issue.
"I have worked on political campaigns in the last 20 years and I understand the mentality of using non-political money for information, but the average voter may never know the difference of the two messages and only see that there is an effort to pass the tax issue using taxpayer dollars," Joseph said.
Council committee meetings are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.