A legislative request to hire a political consultant sparked a contentious discussion between City Auditor Richard Harris and Reynoldsburg Council President Doug Joseph last week, but the request was approved as an ordinance at the Sept. 16 finance committee meeting and forwarded to the full council for a first reading Sept. 23.
The ordinance authorizes Mayor Brad McCloud to hire Zack Woodruff, a political consultant, at a fee of $17,000, to prepare a direct-mail information piece that will describe the city's finances and its need for more revenue.
Harris first introduced the request at the Sept. 9 council meeting, but Joseph objected to it being linked with another request to spend $10,000 on campaign materials to support the city's request for an income tax increase that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The 1-percent increase is Issue 23 on the ballot. If approved by voters, it would hike Reynoldsburg's income tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent and raise about $5 million annually for the city, Harris said.
Voters rejected the last three attempts to raise the city income tax.
Even though the $10,000 was raised from outside sources during a former campaign, Joseph said it would appear that city money was being used if the two requests were linked together.
Only the $17,000 request was a part of the ordinance that was discussed during the finance committee meeting Sept. 16.
Harris said Woodruff would prepare the "information-only" piece to let residents know about the city and its revenue needs.
"Several council members met with Mr. Woodruff," Harris said. "The mayor, city attorney and I chose Mr. Woodruff because he has run this kind of campaign in Whitehall."
Councilman Chris Long said he had researched the practice and concluded that other cities began campaigns with the kind of information piece Woodruff would prepare.
"We could talk about what could be done if we had the resources," he said. "I understand that this money will be strictly spent on information only."
Harris said the city attorney would approve the piece.
"It is not a 'get out the vote' thing," he said. "It is strictly a factual presentation that would be a direct-mail piece."
Both Councilman Barth Cotner and Councilwoman Leslie Kelly said the piece could help show the city's focus and make sure voters are informed about Reynoldsburg's finances.
Joseph wanted to know just how many council members met with Woodruff at one time and pointed out that not all members were invited to meet with him.
"Why were only certain members invited?" he asked.
He said it sounded like they were "secret meetings."
City Attorney Jed Hood said it was his understanding that Woodruff was individually inviting council members to talk about the information piece and would also be calling Joseph.
Joseph said he wanted to make sure council is not violating any of Ohio's open meetings laws, which could be an issue if a majority of members are meeting behind closed doors with no advance notice of a special meeting.
"I can guarantee that no one is trying to do things beyond closed doors," Cotner said. "I am supportive of getting information out to the community so that people understand where there are any shortfalls and what the city could do with more revenue."
Cotner asked that the ordinance be sent to the full council for a reading with recommendation for adoption as an emergency.
The full council meets next at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.