In what was considered a rare move, the Franklin County Republican Central Committee weighed in on an issue facing voters.

In what was considered a rare move, the Franklin County Republican Central Committee weighed in on an issue facing voters.

Central committee members, through a commanding voice vote, overwhelmingly endorsed Issue 1, an initiative that will create ward, or district, representation on Columbus City Council.

After a lively debate July 14 at the Athletic Club of Columbus, the committee agreed that council's structure of seven at-large seats -- all held by Democrats -- simply is inadequate.

The proposal calls for creating 10 wards and three at-large seats on council.

It is the first time the central committee has weighed in on a ballot measure since 2012, when its members voted against a state redistricting proposal.

Rarer still: It was the first time in memory that a member of the Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee spoke in front of the Republican panel.

Democrat Jonathan Beard joined Republican Whitney Smith, both members of the pro-Issue 1 group Represent Columbus, in saying that Columbus has outgrown the strictly at-large system. When it was adopted in 1914, the city had 181,000 residents. The population is now 880,000.

Smith, a one-time candidate for the 18th Ohio House district who is now running for county commissioner, launched pointed criticisms of the system. She pointed to a recent bribery scandal that ensnared the mayor's office, city council and lobbyist John Raphael, who is headed to prison for his role in the matter.

The ballot initiative is not a partisan matter, she said.

"Do not embrace Issue 1 because you are a Republican," she said.

Former Mayor Greg Lashutka, a Republican, laid out the opposing view, saying Issue 1 "was not a solution. It will not eliminate corruption," he said.

As the city grows, so too will the number of council members, creating additional costs and more bureaucracy, and the potential for gridlock and disunity, Lashutka said.

He pointed to Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland -- favorite whipping posts for those opposed a council ward system -- for reasons to support the current structure.

But the committee largely rejected those arguments, saying council is generally unresponsive to many areas and does not equally distribute taxpayer money across the city. Others argued that many other central Ohio cities -- Dublin, Reynoldsburg and Grove City, to name a few -- have successful district systems, as does the Ohio House of Representatives.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

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