'Responsive' vs. 'Strong'
Battle lines form on proposed council ward system
Battle lines have been clearly drawn over a proposed change in the representative structure of Columbus City Council.
Keep Columbus Strong, a newly formed citizens group, says it has "watched with great concern" an attempt to put a charter amendment on the ballot that would create ward representation in addition to the current at-large system on City Council.
The new group took its message to the steps of City Hall June 27 -- two days after the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government submitted 31,000 signatures to get a charter change establishing the ward system on the fall ballot.
It needs 19,164 valid signatures to qualify for the general election. The Franklin County Board of Elections had 10 days as of June 28 to certify the petitions.
The charter amendment specifically calls for a total of 11 members on council -- seven members representing wards or sections of the city, and four filling "at-large" positions and representing the whole city.
The council currently is comprised of seven at-large members.
The coalition, on its web site, maintains that there "can be no expectation that seven council members elected at-large can sufficiently represent the diversity of neighborhoods and interests spread over our large and complex city."
Dave Paul, spokesman for Keep Columbus Strong, said ward systems lead to divisiveness and would reduce the effectiveness of the city's area commissions and civic associations.
With the current makeup, council is beholden to all members of the city, not just individuals or special interests, said Paul, a member of the Northland Community Council.
"Personally I haven't seen a problem with engagement with any City Council members," said Paul, who was joined by Stefanie Coe of the South Side Area Commission and Lucy Wolfe, a member of the Livingston Avenue Area Commission.
All said their respective community groups have neither endorsed nor opposed the charter amendment, but they would call on their members to vote on the issue.
City Council also hasn't officially taken a position, but council President Andrew Ginther told the Northwest Civic Association in April a ward system "becomes, in essence, a free for all."
Paul said he has had personal conversations with individual members of council on the charter amendment but would not elaborate. He said Keep Columbus Strong was not pushed into action by council.
Present at the press conference was Lisa Griffin of Griffin Communications, who from 1987 to 1992 was council's public information officer, and in 1995 was a member of council, appointed to serve part of an unexpired term.
She's remained been active in Democratic politics since, and was involved with Columbus Citizens for Good Government, which in 2010 helped push through a city charter amendment allowing council to meet in closed-door sessions.
She said she was volunteering for Keep Columbus Strong until the campaign kicked into high gear.
The group will work to build a bipartisan grassroots coalition over the next several months, Paul said.
"Obstruction is not the point," he said. "Education is the point."
Jonathan Beard, spokesman for the Coalition for Responsive Government, said he welcomes the challenge by Keep Columbus Strong.
"What we would love to see is a good, robust public debate going forward," he said.