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Columbus Council Puts Its Own Restructuring Issue On May Ballot

Columbus City Hall
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A week after rejecting a proposal to overhaul the structure of Columbus City Council, the current council has approved a May ballot measure of its own.

The plan approved on Monday would expand council from seven to nine members. It would also move from a completely at-large body to requiring council members live in certain districts, but still be elected city-wide. It’s a system council calls “at-large in place.”

The ballot measure would also require council to hold at least one public hearing before appointing a new member to fill a vacancy, and would extend the time period for filling a vacancy from 30 to 45 days.

The council-backed measure builds upon recommendations from a charter review commission that was formed in the wake of the 2016 election. But when the "at-large in place" system was initially proposed last year, citizens at a number of public hearings made it clear they weren't satisfied. Common Cause Ohio criticized the plan for its lack of campaign finance reform, saying that neighborhoods with little voting power would still lack true representation.

The council-backed initiative shares some of the same aspects as a wider-reaching ballot measure that council last week said could not appear on the May ballot because it violated the single-subject rule.

The initiative backed by the grassroots organization Everyday People for Positive Change would expand council to 13 members, with 10 elected by voters in individual wards, or districts. The other three members would be elected at-large.

The citizen initiative also seeks to cap campaign contributions and impose term limits.

Supporters say it’s meant as a check against “a tyrannical city government” that’s helped council members entrench themselves in power by routinely having outgoing members step down before their term ends and appointing a council-friendly replacement.

On Monday, one week after council rejected the citizen ballot issue, backers made good on a promise to sue to get on the May ballot. Activist Jonathan Beard has said he hopes the expedited lawsuit gets a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court in time to go before voters in May.

Beard was one of the supporters of a similar ballot issue that Columbus voters rejected in August of 2016.