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Opinion: Council’s Issue 3 is a Biased Proposal, Ignores Best Practices

 Jonathan Beard Opinion: Council’s Issue 3 is a Biased Proposal, Ignores Best Practices
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To the Editor,

I am disappointed, though not surprised, by the latest bit of political chicanery coming from Columbus City Hall, with respect to the Issue 3/Issue 4 mailing and comparison chart sent by Andrew Ginther and Shannon Hardin last week to the Franklin County Democratic Party Executive Committee as the city sought, and received, the party’s endorsement of Hardin’s Issue 3. I address below some of the lies and distortions.

First, let me note that only Issue 3 (the council’s proposal for city council changes) is now on the May ballot; though I, along with the other members of the citizen initiative ballot committee, have sued city council members for what we believe to be an egregious violation of our constitutional right by denying our ballot proposal from the ballot: we seek to have the citizen’s ballot initiative be ordered onto the primary ballot. In consideration of the pending decision, the Board of Elections has reserved the Title Issue 4 for our ballot issue should the court rule in our favor.

In the chart, Council labels the two issues differently: theirs titled as “Issue 3: Fair District Columbus,” and ours titled as “Issue 4: Jonathan Beard’s Ward Proposal.” I assume my name is a derogatory pejorative of some sort to them (sniff-sniff), as is the word “ward” they use to describe our proposal but not theirs – as both proposals directly call for “council districts” and neither mentions “wards.” Such titling neglects the work of many others and is not the name of the effort: the citizen ballot issue committee of which I am treasurer is Everyday People for Positive Change (EDP).

Council’s Issue 3 proposal was developed by a politician-driven committee in the wake of the defeat of the citizen-initiated Issue 1 in the August 2016 Special Election. It is a biased proposal that does not evidence the “best practices” promised. It is such a bad proposal that it was tabled last July when its sponsor, councilmember Hardin, could not get five votes from fellow councilmembers to put it on the November ballot.

And, after waiting to no avail for council to do something different, on February 9, 2018 Everyday People filed a petition with 42,414 signatures of Columbus residents in support of putting our proposed reform on the ballot. The Board of Elections validated enough signatures to put the issue on the May primary ballot. However, on February 26, Council voted to not allow the citizen petition to get on the ballot.

EDP filed a lawsuit against council’s unconstitutional act on March 5 at 1:29 p.m. Then, Council President Hardin called for and got five of the seven councilmembers to vote to put Issue 3 on the May ballot at 6:02 p.m., the last day to put an issue on the May ballot and despite the fact that its consideration had not been on council’s published agenda. Issue 3 is such bad policy that they needed a new councilmember to get enough votes just to get it to the ballot (council members Stinziano and Tyson voted “no”), and new member Remy reluctantly voted “yes” to put it on the ballot — saying that he would be voting against it at the polls. Issue 3 is a defensive measure against Issue 4 — not anything of value in its own right.

Importantly, Issue 4 makes major changes to the council districts proposal in 2016’s Special Election (Issue 1). This is a completely different proposal – far stronger because it changes and addresses some omissions in the Issue 1 campaign.

Hardin and Ginther claim that establishing nine members is a national best practice based on the Best Cities index. That is just hogwash cherry-picking of convenient information: the top 25 cities have 16 members. When the council’s charter review committee made their strange structure of council recommendation (the city divided into nine council districts, but all members elected at-large), they could only find three cities who used something similar (Tucson, Reno, and Sparks, NV) – and none of them were on the Best Cities Index presented by city staff. In fact, Tucson found its way onto a “worst places to live in America” list: ( http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/arts/tucson-ranked-among-worst-cities-america-9487926). Nor are they comparable in size: Tucson, the largest, is about 60% of Columbus’s population.

Further, the Nevada state legislature was in the process of re-writing Reno’s charter to move to traditional council districts based on an “equal protection” lawsuit filed against the Tucson system – leaving Sparks, Nevada (population 90,000) as the only city in America doing something remotely similar to what Hardin and Ginther propose as “best practice” for Columbus.

They try to make some strange point about Issue 4 “filling City Hall with partisan politicians like Cleveland or Chicago.” However, beyond the fact that Columbus, Cleveland and Chicago all start with the letter “C,” there is no similarity whatsoever in council forms.

Then they claim Issue 4 will reduce “minority representation,” which is both false and paternalistically insulting. First, Issue 4 retains the three at-large seats voted in 2017 (Hardin, M. Brown, and Tyson – all Black elected officials) and calls for 10 district elections in 2019, which includes by design two districts with a majority Black electorate to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Thus, in 2020, there will be at least three Blacks on council as incumbents, with the black community further having had the opportunity to elect two candidates of its choice (of any race). Five is greater than the current four, right?

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the group former president Obama says is “simply the best civil rights law firm in our nation’s history,” wrote about Issue 3 in a November 17, 2017 letter and again on March 29 after their site visit from New York, saying “While this proposed voting structure may create the perception that voters will have a representative chosen by a neighborhood community, the maintenance of the underlying at-large voting scheme for all members of the city council will likely continue to unfailingly diminish the voices of black voters in Columbus.”

Hardin’s rejection of the expert advice of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that seeks to secure the voting power of the Black community under existing federal law makes a mockery of any notion that Columbus City Council is providing “minority representation” beyond the interests of the handful of appointed council members, or that Columbus blacks would lose “minority representation” in the move to council districts of Issue 4. In his own proposal, Issue 3, Hardin consciously rejects the federal guarantee of black community voting power.

Ginther and Hardin make a curious claim that Issue 4 allows corporations for the first time to contribute to campaigns and creates a system of “dark money.” There is no current restriction of any kind in city charter or city code on corporate contributions to Columbus campaigns or on “dark money”: in reality, corporate PACs (along with CEOs personally) contribute heavily today to council campaigns – unlimited amounts of money – while Issue 4 puts a $1,000 cap on individual, corporate and PAC contributions. Looking at Mr. Hardin’s most recent campaign finance report, there are $2,500 contributions from Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio Realtors, and the Vorys Sater law firm PACs, and a $10,000 contribution from New Albany resident/Easton planner Yaromir Steiner.

Issue 4 also caps the accumulation of campaign funds outside of election periods to end perpetual fundraising and the temptation of “pay to play.” Under Issue 4, council retains full ability to enact any restrictions on “dark money” it so chooses. Issue 4 specifically says “the council may enact by ordinance further provisions to implement these, and other provisions designed to secure fair and competitive elections for the people of Columbus” (Sec. 41-1-3).

In summary, it troubles me that we have Democrat elected officials so willing to mislead the people of Columbus about our government. Rather than having an honest discussion about principles and values, we are being subjected to self-serving political spin that has no semblance of truth.

Jonathan C. Beard

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