Ward System for Columbus City Council - News & Updates
April 14, 2012 8:09 pm at 8:09 pm #473187
Does a ward/district system guarantee political diversity? Do all at-large systems across the country only have current single party rule? Has Columbus City Council always been one-party ruled or is this just a recent thing?
Fair questions. It may not guarantee and end of one-party rule (see:Cleveland) but Columbus is a very politically diverse town and we would have a chance to see at least see a few Republicans on it.April 14, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm #473188
Fair questions. It may not guarantee and end of one-party rule (see:Cleveland) but Columbus is a very politically diverse town and we would have a chance to see at least see a few Republicans on it.
According to The Other Paper article, “registered Democrats in the city outnumber Republicans by a 3 ½-to-1 margin”. Any idea how that compares to Cleveland?April 16, 2012 3:07 pm at 3:07 pm #473189
Was glad to see the article in The Other Paper, but just to clarify that nobody at the Coalition views this as an attempt to “neuter” City Council. Au Contraire … we believe it makes Council stronger, more robust, more democratic, and more relevant. A couple observations:
– Most cities are heavily democratic, like Columbus. Columbus Council has been majority Democrat since 1965 (and exclusively Democrat since 2002, I believe) — and that is unlikely to change regardless of how council is elected. Wards could, perhaps, allow one or two Republican (or Green, or Independent, Libertarian etc.) be elected more readily if there are geographic political differences between inner belt and outerbelt perhaps, or if the non-incumbent (i.e., non-Democrat) candidate with less money can challenge and win in a smaller District election (which is unthinkable in a citywide election, as it easily costs $250,000 to run a competitive citywide election as a non-incumbent).
Districts might also allow a non-incumbent Democrat to challenge an incumbent, without having to raise the huge sums of money necessary to defeat an incumbent. Last election (2011 General), the incumbents raised and spent about $790K, compared to about $240K for the challengers combined. It simply costs more to run a citywide election campaign in 225 square miles, than it does in a smaller District. So one thing Districts would do is level the playing field for challengers by taking obscene amounts of the money out of local elections. I mean, come on — raising three quarters of a million dollars for four $50K per year part-time jobs?
Let’s look at the corruption of our current system. By corruption I don’t necessarily mean bribes and kick-backs — I mean the difference from the ideal. Over the last 27 years, only 3 council members have had to face the voters before holding office. The rest were appointed, and after appointment they could run as incumbents with party support, name recognition, and the propaganda of CTV-3 as they smile and cut ribbons on projects that were started long before they took office. They never had to face a real primary or general election challenge on the same ground as any other citizen of Columbus would have to.
Under the city charter, a candidate for council needs to get 1,000 signatures of registered Columbus voters just to get on the ballot. In other words, you have to present yourself for a form of voter approval for the right to be on the ballot. In the 2011 primaries, neither one of the new appointees had to gather any signatures or present themselves for voter approval to get on the ballot. The incumbents (Craig and Ginther), gathered signatures on behalf of four people — themselves and two others who had no intention of actually being seated (a Democratic party operative named Donald S. Klco and someone else you’ve never heard of).
Then, when Council appointed the two new council members (Mills and Klein) to fill the two seats left vacant by council resignations, they simply had the two placeholder candidates resign, replaced their names with the names of Mills and Klein, and presto — Mills and Klein were not just appointed to council but also put on the Primary Ballot without ever having presented themselves to the voters.
(Technically I understand that it is not an offense of election falsification, though election falsification says that “no person shall knowingly state a falsehood as to a material matter relating to an election … including a statment required for verifying or filing any declaration of candidacy …”, and I couldn’t imagine any greater falsehood than claiming you are running for an office with full knowledge that you have no intent of serving and exist solely to hold a place open for someone who your petition signers do not even know exists.)
Thus, there was no open seat for any Democrat to present him/herself to the voters for in the Primary — as any Democrat with the audacity to challenge an incumbent Democrat for the primary nod would be crushed by the party. Then, fast forward to the General election, where Council President Ginther then dumps more than $300,000 into the campaigns of his fellow campaigners — more money than was raised and spent by all the challengers combined. District elections would eliminate the need toraise huge sums of money for the majority of council seats, and allow the voters a real choice in who represents them.
Add to this the fact that council has taken away public access television, where citizens could present themselves to the masses for free — but retained and expanded CTV-3 which shows them doing their job as government officials … and you have a system that has been horrendously unbalanced in favor of incumbency.
This single party system is corrupted and needs changed. We do not have a real democracy, we have a controlled show. And it ain’t controlled by the voters. If voters controlled our democracy, do you really think the wealthiest corporation in the city — with annual profits of hundreds of millions of dollars — would get a quarter-billion dollar public bailout within two years of voters accepting a 25% income tax hike (and after watching our housing values skid over the last six years)? It just don’t make sense, folks. That is just one of the reasons we believe a representative form of government is needed.April 16, 2012 3:24 pm at 3:24 pm #473190
NEOBuckeye <a but the city at least appears to be moving in a forward direction with it. How much can Columbus’ success be attributed to its current form of government? And would that be adversely affected by a change? I have no idea. I’m no expert on government. Perhaps a study of the current form versus others, and a look at best practices might help help to make (or break) the case for a system reform.
… Toledo is the only major city in Ohio that appears to have some diversity with Republicans and Independents also serving on council in a mixed Ward/At-Large (6:6) rep system. Perhaps it would make a good case study?
Good questions. Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, 47 have District-based governments and only 3 (including Columbus) have all At Large. One of the 3 is Austin, Texas. Last April, Austin’s Mayor and Council passed legislation to start a move toward Districts, and pursuant to those actions, in February an Austin Charter Review Committee voted to recommend an 11 member council, with 10 members from Districts and one At Large (the Mayor At Large in their Council/Manager form of government).
The clear trend over the past 50 years has been towards District-based councils. The “average” Top 50 council has 2 members At Large, and 11 from Districts. Even Detroit moved from its scandal-ridden all At Large system in 2009, to a District-based system. So almost all of our comparison cities: Indianapolis, Boston, Charlotte, Baltimore, San Francisco, etc. have systems like the one we would propose to adopt.
People sometimes talk about gridlock with Districts/Wards, and suggest that At Large makes it easier to move things forward. The empirical literature is clear — At Large groups do tend to vote in blocks. So with our split of 4 At Large and 7 from Districts, it takes 6 to pass legislation. So if the 4 At Large vote in a block (and we’re not so sure that is always a good thing), it only takes two more votes out of 7 members to pass legislation. Any proposal that can’t get another 2 votes probably sholdn’t be enacted. We believe that if the rest of the free world can govern democratically, Columbus can too.
Finally, Columbus — the biggest city by far population-wise and geographically — has the smallest council of the 9 largest Ohio cities. Of the 9 cities, only Dayton has a smaller council than Columbus’s (despite the fact that you can fit Cleveland, Cincinatti, and Akron inside the corporate boundaries of Columbus and still have square miles to spare!).
Our system was set up to be controlled by powerbrokers, not by the people. There are many, many reasons to change … and no substantive reasons to remain mired in a system that was created by the elite around the turn of the century (and remember, women couldn’t vote on it … three women’s suffrage amendments were defeated by Ohio men from 1912-1919) — that the rest of America has left behind.April 16, 2012 4:45 pm at 4:45 pm #473191
The question is: who will have the power to draw the district boundaries, and the power to change those boundaries when the time comes? Without an answer to this question (or even with a particular answer to it) the goal of a shift in the basic power dynamics within the city may not be attainable.April 16, 2012 5:19 pm at 5:19 pm #473192
This single party system is corrupted and needs changed. We do not have a real democracy, we have a controlled show. And it ain’t controlled by the voters. If voters controlled our democracy, do you really think the wealthiest corporation in the city — with annual profits of hundreds of millions of dollars — would get a quarter-billion dollar public bailout within two years of voters accepting a 25% income tax hike (and after watching our housing values skid over the last six years)? It just don’t make sense, folks. That is just one of the reasons we believe a representative form of government is needed.
Your complaint easily could have appeared in the comments section of Ohio.com (Akron), Cleveland.com, the Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh), Cincinnati.com or just about any other city with one-party rule AND a district/ward council system. As I stated before, I’m not necessarily against reform, but I fail to see based upon the arguments you’ve presented here how the reform you advocate is going to make even so much as a dent in the single party system of governance in Columbus and make things less corrupt in Columbus city politics, given its track record of preventing corruption elsewhere. Your stance, if it isn’t based in political naivety, is rather disingenuous.April 16, 2012 7:22 pm at 7:22 pm #473193
more politicians=more corruptionApril 16, 2012 7:49 pm at 7:49 pm #473194
NEOBuckeye <a href=”http://www.columbut I fail to see based upon the arguments you’ve presented here how the reform you advocate is going to make even so much as a dent in the single party system of governance in Columbus and make things less corrupt in Columbus city politics, given its track record of preventing corruption elsewhere. Your stance, if it isn’t based in political naivety, is rather disingenuous.
You are absolutely correct: only the voters can make a dent in the single party system of governance in Columbus. And while we acknowledge and recognize the single party system in Columbus as fact with certain likely consequences (power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely), this is a nonpartisan initiative and we don’t take a position on whether or not the Democrats or Republicans control seats on council — nor do we try to change it: we respect the peoples’ votes. So our goal is not to change any political aspect of council, but to make council as an institution become more responsive to the people through this traditional American mechanism of District representation.
We also happen to believe that all candidates for public office deserve as level a playing field as is possible in a political system, and we think it is incumbent on citizens to make sure that happens … this is, after all, our democracy — in theory at least, owned by the people and not by the politicians. And many of us believe we should own and organize a system that moves closer toward responsiveness, accountability, and democracy. We do not aspire to solve all the problems of elections, but we do want to leave to our children and their children a better democracy than the one that exists today.
The dialogue that we are having on this messageboard is a critical part of our current democracy. Many citizens have one view, others different views. And you, I, and others can debate, challenge each others’ assumptions, and try to get to our respective truths. We do not expect to win a vote unanimously, but we do expect to win a vote because we believe our truths are more justifiable than anything I’ve heard from those in defense of the status quo.
And the good part about our charter is that it allows citizens to propose changes to the government that we are responsible for organizing, the debate allows us to hear each other out, consider each others’ arguments, and decide together as a community by a vote.
I’m convinced that what will be through our proposal, is better than what is today. And as an advocate for change is to put out facts and perspectives on an issue that few people ever think about, so that we can have an informed community dialogue and decision. I love debate on this issue … and I love being challenged by those with different views. So thanks much for sharing your views and participating in this debate, it is inspiring!April 16, 2012 7:50 pm at 7:50 pm #473195
more politicians=more corruption
Great bumper sticker, but impractical for governance.April 16, 2012 8:06 pm at 8:06 pm #473196
The question is: who will have the power to draw the district boundaries, and the power to change those boundaries when the time comes? Without an answer to this question (or even with a particular answer to it) the goal of a shift in the basic power dynamics within the city may not be attainable.
The Citizens’ Ballot Initiative that creates the District-based council also creates a 9 member Apportionment Board, which is formed after each decennial census and dissolves when its work is through (about 120 days in existence, I believe). In response to a public notice by the City Clerk, non-politicians drawn from the Columbus electorate can apply for appointment to the Apportionment Board. Then, Council selects 9 members who reflect broadly the demographics of the city, provided that no more than three members can be from the same political party. The Board has public meetings, must receive public proposals, and ultimately is charged with presenting up to 3 options to Council. The proposed ordinance also lays out some good governance criteria by which the lines must be drawn (equal populations, compact districts, no gerrymandering, etc.).
Remember, again, as New York’s Mayor LaGuardi famously said, “there is no Democratic or a Republican way of cleaning the streets.” This is not about drawing lines for partisanship’s sake — for us, this is about making sure all areas of the city have equal access to the levers of power. It is about representation, and it is about making sure that people in political office are directly accountable to their constituents.
There is an old saying that “when you represent everyone, you represent no one” — which describes the current system. Under the current system, a council member (or members) can blow off an entire portion of the city because they can pick up votes in other portions of the city. Our goal is to make sure that every neighborhood has an elected official more directly accountable to them for addressing the conditions (good and bad) in which they live. So are the lines important in a city election? — maybe. The more important benefit of the district lines lies in ensuring elected officials remain accountable to their neighbors.
For more information, check us out at http://www.facebook.com/columbus.coalition . Read about our proposal and what else is going on in good governance across the nation, and “Like” and “Share” our posts with your friends. Our static website is at http://www.columbuscoalition.info, and there are several Fact Sheets and other information on that site.April 20, 2012 1:05 pm at 1:05 pm #473197
Interested in a better Columbus? Then come down to Earth Day, on the Columbus Commons tomorrow (Saturday, 4/21), and look for our tent near the National Public Radio (WCBE 90.5) tent. Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government will have educational materials and petitions to sign, so that the citizen’s ballot initiative to create a better and more representative form of Columbus government gets on the ballot in November.April 20, 2012 1:38 pm at 1:38 pm #473198April 25, 2012 4:51 pm at 4:51 pm #473199
Friends of Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government Call for Council Hearings on Citizen-Led Reform Initiative
April 24, 3012
(Columbus, Ohio) Friends of the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government today released an Open Letter to Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther and the members of the City Council. The letter calls for Council to begin hearings on a citizens’ ballot initiative to amend the City Charter to create a City Council that is more responsive to the needs of the city’s residents. (The letter is available at: http://www.columbuscoalition.info/Friends%204-23-12%20Final%20Letter%20to%20Council%20with%20attachments.pdf )
The letter to City Council was signed by 25 varied constituents in this ad hoc ballot initiative support group, including a Neighborhood Area Commissioner, former Chair of the City Recreation and Parks Commission, former State Senator representing Columbus, former candidate for Mayor of Columbus, multiple civic association and block watch participants, small and large business owners, lawyers, clergy, human services and workforce development professionals, and residents spread geographically across the city. “While this letter shows a representative portion of our Friends committee and its diversity, the one thing all the signers have in common is a love for Columbus and a desire to see a form of government that will help our city grow and thrive in the next century,” said Jonathan Beard, a spokesperson for the Coalition.
The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government is a citizen-led ballot initiative to reform Columbus City Council and create a more contemporary form of governance.
Right now, Columbus City Council retains an outmoded form of governance from the early 1900s, where all 7 members are elected At Large in city-wide elections. This all At Large form of council has been abandoned by almost every other large city in America, in favor of District-based councils where a majority of council members are elected by District, and a minority (if any at all) are elected At Large. The Columbus Coalition proposal calls for an 11 member council, of which 4 members are elected At Large, and 7 members are elected by the residents of the Districts in which they reside.
According to Beard, “our current form of government is an extreme and awkward form of government for as big a city as Columbus has grown to be. It has been controversial since its inception in 1914, and it is even more dysfunctional today with the city’s current size. History tells us that our all At Large form of government was opposed by labor and the Franklin County Democratic Party back in 1914 when it was instituted, because it was widely viewed as aristocratic reaction that removed government from the people it was intended to serve and concentrated power among the community’s elite. As we become ever-larger and more diverse, it is important that our government remains accountable to its many and diverse constituents.”
Beard continues, “While this reform is a nonpartisan issue, we have to note that Columbus City Council is comprised of all Democratic Party office holders, and with our support they can ultimately resolve this issue in favor of the people, and not the powerful special interests. We ultimately expect support on this issue from Council, because the Democratic Party has traditionally supported fair elections and District based representation – both nationally and here in Columbus over the years — and we would expect that the long-standing principles of the Democratic Party are understood and carried out by the current office holders.”
In reference notes included with the letter, the Columbus Coalition notes that as far back as 1968, Democrats were fighting for District-based governance, led by the popular Democratic Mayor M.E. “Jack” Sensenbrenner. At that time, the office holders were ahead of the people and the issue failed at the ballot. By 1994, even the Dispatch editorial board voiced concerns about the make-up of council and the impact of campaign contributions on the voters’ perceptions of our democracy; however, campaign finance reform was never embraced by the Council itself.
Beard says, “while past Democratic efforts were not supported by the people, this is a new era and the Columbus Coalition pledges its support to our current office holders as they work to adopt our proposed changes to make our government more open, inclusive, responsive, and accountable. We look forward to working with Council President Ginther and the rest of Council to making that happen by early summer when our signed petitions are filed.”
In past years, critics of reform have raised baseless fears about “logrolling,” legislative gridlock, and extreme parochialism. Attorney Bob Fitrakis, one of the original petitioners, says, “We did not choose to move from the current extreme position of “all At Large,” to the other extreme position of “all from Districts.” In other words, we chose not to set up a system like cities Cleveland or Chicago where all council members are elected from Districts. Instead, we designed our system so that if the four At Large council members have a joint priority, it only takes 2 of the remaining 7 votes to secure a council majority to move that priority forward. By mixing At Large seats with District seats, our governance model reaps the purported benefits of both forms of government, without catapulting into the excesses of either form of government in its extreme. Ours is a model that former city council president and our city’s longest-serving council member, M.D. Portman, advocated for years, and it fits well with our moderate Columbus sensibilities.”
Diann Thomas-Beasley, Director of the Coalition’s Speaker’s Bureau, continues, “We are out several times a week talking to residents at their community meetings. From the feedback we receive, I believe Columbus voters today are wise enough to understand that the fear tactics used by past opponents of reform have been proven wrong. While in the past, opponents successfully stoked the fear of the unknown, as city after city has successfully adopted District-based forms of governance over the past 45 years, there has been a growing realization that it is by far the normal and better form of governance. The fact is that all our comparison cities other than Austin have District-based forms of government, and they all operate quite smoothly. And as we speak, Austin’s Mayor and Council are leading that city’s charge as they seek to move their current all At Large Council to a District-led Council. People see what has been going on across the nation, and the feedback we get at community meetings on our ballot initiative is overwhelmingly positive, and people are excited about helping Columbus move forward and become more progressive and more contemporary.”
Beard adds, “our research showed that in the past opponents of reform have engaged in emotional fear tactics to stop progress in reforming our government. But those tired anecdotes, hysterical theatrics, and Chicken Little doomsday scenarios just don’t cut it when you look at all the evidence of good District-based governance that is out there today. And to say that District-based representatives don’t look at the good of the entire city as some have said in the past … well, that was just a silly argument that was put out by people who must have thought citizens didn’t think for themselves. I don’t think citizens would buy it today, and I don’t think anybody that is being honest could make that argument with a straight face today.”
More information about the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government is available at http://www.columbuscoalition.info, or on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/columbus.coalition. For more information, contact Jonathan Beard, spokesperson, at 614-395-1946, Diann Thomas-Beasley, Director of the Speakers’ Bureau, at 614-477-8549, or Bob Fitrakis, member, Committee of Petitioners, at 614-374-2380.April 25, 2012 5:32 pm at 5:32 pm #473200
I wonder if anything will become of this…June 26, 2012 1:53 pm at 1:53 pm #473201
COLUMBUS COALITION FOR RESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT DELIVERS PETITIONS AND CALLS FOR COLUMBUS CITY COUNCIL TO PUT CHARTER AMENDMENT ON THE BALLOT
June 25, 3012
(Columbus, OH) The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (the “Columbus Coalition”, or “the Coalition”) will held a Press Conference today at 3:00 PM, on the south steps of Columbus City Hall. The Coalition was formed in November 2011, to support certain reforms of Columbus City Council. At the core of the Coalition’s efforts is an initiative to change the Charter of the City of Columbus, to revise the way council members are elected to office.
Since 1914, council members have been elected through At Large elections – meaning all City Council members are elected in a city-wide ballot. The Columbus Coalition has proposed an ordinance that would change that format, creating an electoral system where 4 members are elected At Large, and 7 members are elected from the single-member Districts in which they reside.
In November 2011, the Coalition announced that it would begin gathering petition signatures from registered Columbus voters in an effort to make that change. Because the City Charter requirement is so onerous for citizen-initiated charter changes (requiring 10% of the electorate to sign – which as a practical matter would have required collecting signatures of approximately 120,000 residents – the same number of people who voted for Mayor Coleman in the last Mayoral election), the Coalition pursued change through a citizens’ initiative for an ordinance that outlines an amendment to the City Charter which requires 5% of the electors in the last election.
Today, the Coalition announced the end of the signature campaign. The Coalition delivered more than 31,000 notarized signature petitions to the City Clerk, to start the Charter-defined process for a citizen’s initiative to place an ordinance for charter change on the November 6 ballot for a vote. Once enacted as law by the voters, this ordinance could then drive the process by which Columbus City Council would vote to put a charter change amendment on the books.
Jonathan Beard, a spokesperson for the Coalition says “we have now collected sufficient signatures from Columbus voters to put an ordinance to a public vote. This would start a citizen-initiated process, but it is an imperfect process. We note, though, that the City Charter has been amended 69 times, since 1914 when enacted. Each time, amendments have been initiated by a 2/3rd vote of the members of Council. The Coalition calls upon Columbus City Council to respond to the call of the voters for a chance to weigh in on this issue, and to hold such a vote and place Charter Amendment on the November 6, 2012 ballot.”
The Coalition is further raising this issue as part of a larger public discussion about governance in the City of Columbus, and whether the current system is becoming increasingly removed from, and unresponsive to, the citizens of Columbus. The press packet includes evidence of resident disenfranchisement from Columbus City Council, along with historical information about the form of government in Columbus today.
For More Information: 614-595-2986, or http://www.facebook.com/columbus.coalition
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