Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Councilman Shannon G. Hardin visited the Westgate Community Center July 6 to announce plans to name a committee to consider "modernizing" Columbus City Council, beginning in September.

Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Councilman Shannon G. Hardin visited the Westgate Community Center July 6 to announce plans to name a committee to consider "modernizing" Columbus City Council, beginning in September.

The move comes amid the start of early voting on Issue 1, a charter amendment on the Aug. 2 special election ballot that would change City Council from its current seven at-large members to a 13-member body, with 10 members elected from districts and three at-large.

If voters reject Issue 1, council would stay at seven at-large members.

The seven members of the committee Ginther and Shannon discussed would be appointed by the mayor and council members.

"We have this conversation every 30 years in this city, and wards have been voted down a couple of times," Ginther said. "But as I am out and about, people are asking what is this wards issue about, so I thought let's have a conversation about it and what's working and what can we do better."

Whitney Smith, one of the co-chairs of Represent Columbus, the political-action committee that brought the ballot issue, called the move to form a review committee a political tactic to suppress voter turnout.

"Now they want to have this conversation to address concerns, but not until after the Aug. 2 election," she said. "I think the voters will see right through this."

Elections experts and elected officials estimate that voter turnout next month will be between 5 and 10 percent.

All incumbent City Council members and Ginther oppose Issue 1. Privately, however, some members have discussed the need to modernize the city's government structure.

What that would look like is unclear.

Hardin said he wants to examine how council appoints members to fill a vacancy. That process also has come under fire from some neighborhood activists and Republicans who cannot break the Democrats' decade-long stronghold on all seven council seats.

"I think something can be done to make the appointment process more inclusive," Hardin said.

Council members Michael Stinziano, Elizabeth Brown and Jaiza Page all said they support the review.

"I am not interested in the 50 largest cities and what they do," Brown said. "I am interested in the five best cities and what they are doing."

Proponents of Issue 1 say that Columbus, with about 850,000 residents, has become too large to be governed by seven at-large council members. Smith said the seven members care only about certain areas of the city and ignore neighborhoods that are struggling.

Stinziano said the committee's review will give residents the step-back approach needed to decide how best to change city government.

"I think that there is a need to get complete information, and when you have campaigns going on for and against the issue, the complete information isn't what is being presented," he said.

There will be no elected officials on the committee, which will hold seven public hearings around the city and make recommendations to council members and Ginther by February.

City Council does not have to act on the committee's recommendations. Any changes to the city charter, such as expanding the numbers of members on council or changing the appointment process, would require voter approval.

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