The involvement of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus has salvaged a candidates night forum originally shunned by five of the six Hilliard City Council Republican candidates.

The involvement of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus has salvaged a candidates night forum originally shunned by five of the six Hilliard City Council Republican candidates.

Four of the five candidates who said they would boycott the event told ThisWeek they have changed their minds and will now participate in the forum scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 16, at the Joint Safety Services Facility, 5181 Northwest Pkwy.

The League of Women Voters announced Thursday afternoon that it had accepted an invitation from the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce to participate in the forum. Chamber president and CEO Libby Gierach said the chamber is still serving as host and will be involved with screening questions, along with League of Women Voters representatives.

In a press release issued March 19, the League of Women Voters stated that all questions for the candidates will come from the audience in written form. A three-person screening committee will vet the questions for appropriateness and redundancy and a moderator, provided by the league, will ask the same question of all candidates.

Candidates will be given a limited time to answer each of the questions, as well as a chance to make opening and closing statements.

On Feb. 18, Gierach sent letters to the candidates inviting them to participate in the event. In that letter, she noted the chamber intended to publicize the names of candidates in attendance as well as those who chose not to participate and that empty chairs and name cards would be on display for those who chose not to attend.

On March 2 candidates Jim Ashenhurst, Doug Jackson, Stephanie Kunze, Kelly McGivern and Brett Sciotto said they were declining the chamber's invitation. Only Heather Keck, a Hilliard businesswoman and chamber board member, said at that time that she intended to participate.

The dissenting candidates questioned the chamber's ability to hold an impartial and unbiased event.

In their response to that invitation, five of the six candidates wrote: "It is our collective belief that a candidates forum should be run by an unbiased organization whose only interest is to promote access and transparency in our political process. We believe there are a number of other organizations better suited to host such an event. The Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce is not currently, nor has it been historically, an impartial and unbiased voice in our community."

All of the candidates except Jackson now say they will attend the event. ThisWeek was unable to reach Jackson, who is out of town on a family vacation.

Sciotto, one of Gierach's most outspoken critics, said he welcomes the involvement of the League of Women Voters.

"I'm glad the League of Women Voters was willing to step in and coordinate the candidate's forum," Sciotto said. "I look forward to attending and to sharing my thoughts with our citizens.

"I want to commend the four Republican candidates who signed the letter along with me," he said. "They believe, as I do, that the citizens deserve an open, transparent and unbiased opportunity to ask us questions. They stood up for what they believe on behalf of the citizens of Hilliard. That's a quality they will need on council and they are already showing they are principled leaders."

McGivern said she was also dropping her opposition to the event.

"This is great news," McGivern said. "I am pleased the League of Women Voters is willing to host a fair and impartial candidates night in our community. I believe it is important to provide voters with the ability to meet the candidates and ask questions on important issues."

Ashenhurst praised the efforts of those who worked to salvage the event.

On Friday afternoon, Ashenhurst said he had changed his position and would attend.

"I definitely plan to participate in the Candidates Night event," he said. "I applaud all of those who worked together to make this event possible. Any misgivings I had regarding the event have been eliminated, and more importantly, I find the spirit of cooperation exhibited in finding this resolution to be refreshing."

Kunze said she received her invitation Monday and would attend.

"I plan to attend and am pleased they (League of Women Voters) stepped in to sponsor the Candidates Night," Kunze said. "I look forward to expressing my views at the forum."

Keck said she always intended to participate.

"This is a forum for the community to participate in the electoral process and I intend to be there," she said. "I am happy the league accepted the chamber's invitation and look forward to meeting and speaking with Hilliard residents on April 16."