City Council Candidate Profile: Joe Motil
Joe Motil has been waiting for his turn.
At least, that’s the advice he’d been given from Democratic leaders whenever he lost a bid for local offices: “‘Stick around, your turn will come,’” he says.
Motil first ran for City Council in 1995. In 1998, he ran for State Representative in what was then the 27th House District, and again in 2000. He ran for City Council again in 2003, even receiving an endorsement from the Columbus Dispatch. Since then he has ran as a write-in candidate; His current bid is the first time he’s been on the ballot in 16 years.
All of those years of running, as well as working on various campaigns and committees — the University Area Commission, the Tuttle Park Community Recreation Council, the campaign against the Nationwide Arena tax in 1997, recent campaigns for City Council reform, and others — has taught him how much things have stayed the same in Columbus, he says.
“The history of politics for a local government like Columbus is really important in terms of whether it’s police-related, development-related,” he says. “[People] don’t understand why we’re so outspoken against, let’s say, what’s going on at Crew Stadium right now. I mean, this battle was fought 20 years ago. Younger people coming into Columbus 10 years ago, 15 years ago, don’t know anything about that.”
But one thing that has changed is the group he now finds himself aligned with. Yes We Can pushes many of the same progressive policies Motil has advocated for, like $15 an hour minimum wage and establishing a city ward system. The group is also in favor of stopping “unnecessary” tax breaks to Columbus investors, the essential issue Motil is running on.
Columbus Underground sat down with Motil to discuss tax abatements, running with Yes We Can, City Council and police reform:
On tax abatements:
“A lot of it has to do with just really the campaign contributions and in terms of the influence of money that it has. All’s you gotta do is take one look at somebody’s campaign finance report: Mayor Ginther’s, Liz Brown’s, any of them. And it’ll tell you right there who has an impact on city policy in this city. And it’s a shame that just about everybody who’s anybody in this town, they basically all sleep in the same bed together. And that’s the problem.
“We need to get rid of the tax abatements. Because they’ve been abused, and they’ve been abused because they’re using them in areas where they’re not needed. We can’t be giving these tax abatements out in the Short North, in Downtown, Polaris, Easton, and Rickenbacker. They’re all risk-free development areas. They don’t need a dime to do anything in those areas. Those tax abatements and tax incentives were to be used for originally, when they were developed in the ’90s, for distressed neighborhoods, period.
“The City of Columbus continues to just pick a neighborhood and say, ‘Okay, we’re gonna fix this neighborhood up.’ ‘Now we’re going to fix this neighborhood up.’ We need a comprehensive plan across the city in terms of redeveloping these neighborhoods and bringing economic development into them. There’s 31 schools in the city of Columbus that do not have classroom air conditioning, and we’re in the year 2019. That’s not right. And also, the tax abatements impacts our affordable housing crisis. We have a mediocre mass transit system that has been talked about. We need to create transit to get people to their jobs in an efficient manner. Not to take an hour and a half for them to get from their home out to their business in Rickenbacker, where they’re working 15 dollar an hour jobs. And there’s no bus service out there for some of those places.
“You got to understand that $113 million of city income tax dollars that’s going towards what is, in essence, to benefit a private sports arena. Heck, $10-20 million of that money could be much more better spent in the Linden community or in the Hilltop. That’s a large chunk of money that can make a huge impact on one of those neighborhoods. So sometimes you’ve got to set aside your enthusiasm and pride. When you see a brand new shiny stadium and new buildings and everybody says it’s going to be a job creator. Study after study has proven that sports arenas and stadiums are not an economic boom to a community; And that really it’s a transfer of entertainment dollars from one place to another.
“I don’t want to see the Crew leave. I’m happy they’re staying and so forth, and I’m glad the Haslams have put up some additional money. But we got to start looking at where our priorities are, really.
“You have the state Capitol. You have 52 colleges and universities. Within an hour’s drive of Columbus, within a 10 hour’s drive of Columbus you have 44% of the U.S. population. Columbus has always been kind of considered as a recession-free city, because of its banking institutions, insurance institutions and things like that. And it doesn’t depend on a lot of manufacturing. So it has so much going for it.
“I would like to be recognized as a city that puts an end to this nonsense of granting these tax abatements and these giveaways to luxury developers and major corporations that don’t need a dime. Now they want to start doing something in these distressed neighborhoods, let’s take a closer look at it. We want to use them for affordable housing to create true affordable housing…then let’s start looking at it more closely. And let’s look at where they’re going to go.”
On Yes We Can:
“I was extremely pleased to see a younger organization come up here in Columbus to start participating and getting involved with city government. I have always been involved, but 15 years ago, 20 years ago, it was mostly folks like me and the other folks from various area commissions and civic associations who would gather…and discuss the issues of our neighborhoods. I’m really happy to see that younger people are starting to get involved and understand the impact that some of these decisions [have].
“The alignment with them helps me to get my word out to the younger folks, in terms of what I stand for and get to know me better. And so it’s sort of a win-win for both of us. I’ve been an established voice of the citizens of Columbus for a long time. And I think it’s the younger folks and the Yes We Can folks who stand for the same issues that I do and are outspoken about them; Understand that I guess I have a bit of a wealth of knowledge in terms of, especially the history of Columbus politically, what’s been going on here and how it relates to what’s going on currently.”
On City Council reform:
“The system that [City Council] voted on — that’s going to go in place here in a couple of years — they said they’re going to create I believe [nine] districts, but the entire city of Columbus voters get to vote for those people in those districts. So that’s nothing more than an extension of our at-large system.
“We gotta have people that actually live in these neighborhoods, and only allow the people that live in the neighborhoods vote on those people for those districts. And I don’t care if it’s six or seven people, what the makeup of it is, but it’s gotta change. Everything now is rubber stamped down at City Council. There’s never, ever any kind of discussion about a piece of legislation, or a tax abatement or anything like that amongst the council members. It’s a 7-0 vote 99% of the time, period. We got no checks and balances between City Council and the mayor’s office ‘cause they all sleep in the same bed. There’s no democracy.”
On police reform:
“People need to understand that this isn’t something that just occurred here in the last five years, that there were police shootings of Tyree King and Henry Green and other things of that nature. This has been going on. And so people need to understand why this is such a big issue, because things haven’t changed. It’s one administration after another that says, ‘Yes, we’re going to do something about it,’ but it’s not being done. They created a safety advisory commission, which was a good thing, but just like any commission that the City of Columbus creates, it was stacked full of people who really aren’t going to speak out about what needs to be said. We’re going to get a new police chief and everybody knows there has to be a change in the organizational culture at the police department if anything is ever gonna change.
“Nobody’s saying that our police department isn’t a fine police department. I have a lot of friends that are police officers. I have a lot of Black friends that are police officers, that support me and they know I’m not anti-police force. We’ve just [got], I think it’s…50% of the abusive actions come from 6% of the police officers within the department. So we need to start looking at a lot of different things, how they’re recruited and just more training for racial bias.
“I have personally viewed hundreds of pages of internal affair reports, and several discs of illegal police pullovers of Black gentlemen. And I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done my homework. I’ve been involved with this for quite some time and understand the history of it as well. Just like anything, you need to understand what’s happened here in terms of the development, in terms of taxes, in terms of police brutality.”
For more information, visit joemotil.com.
Read profiles with other candidates running for City Council in the November election.