City Council Districts Moving Forward

Petition signatures for a vote on Columbus City Council Districts to be presented

For the past several years, there have been efforts made to reform Columbus City Council to make it more responsive to neighborhoods.  The most recent began last September:  Represent Columbus has been gathering signatures for a citizen-initiated amendment to our city charter. We are very close to submitting those signatures for validation to put this on the ballot for a vote, and we would like to meet and share this proposal to reform our government with you.

How does this Proposal Compare to the Current Council?

Our charter amendment proposes a 13 member council, with 3 members elected at large, the rest (10) from districts.  Over time, as the population of the city expands (or contracts), the number of district representatives would expand (or contract) accordingly. The council districts would be drawn by an independent apportionment board, with a goal of district elections  in 2017, but no later than 2019.
Instead of the revolving door of council appointees who can’t possibly know each of Columbus’s more than 200 recognized neighborhoods and their issues, opportunities and leaderships, under this proposal, in addition to the other 12 councilmembers, every district would have one council member who resides in and would be elected by that community’s residents, who would be responsive to the concerns of neighborhood leaders and politically attuned to the issues and opportunities.
Our current 7 member council format where all council members are elected in citywide (“at large”) elections was established by Columbus’s male leadership in 1914 (women could not vote at that time), when Columbus had 181,500 people in 24 square miles.  We are now 836,000 in more than 225 square miles, but our council remains the same size.  Columbus is the largest city that retains this archaic form of government — indeed the only top 25 city with this form of “hands off” governance.  Further, o f Ohio’s major cities, only Dayton has a smaller council — despite the fact that Columbus has more people and far more square miles than every other Ohio city.  We are structurally under-represented and have been so for quite some time.
This Issue Has Been Unresolved for Decades
Mayor Kelb, in 1914, when 7 member council was adopted.

With our city’s size, our small 7 member council with no neighborhood-based representation simply doesn’t work — a sentiment that has been expressed in neighborhoods and also at the highest levels of city governance for decades, but the simple solution has always been repressed by various factions of political leadership for partisan purposes.
  • In 1958, Mayor M.E. “Jack” Sensenbrenner declared that “we need representation of every segment of the City of Columbus,” as he supported a 13 member Council where a majority (7) was elected from Districts.
  • In 1975, Dr. John Rosemond, our city’s first AfricanAmerican candidate for Mayor, supported an 11 member council, with a majority (6) elected by district.
  • In 1991, our longest-serving council member M.D. Portman stated “the council is going through the motions of trying to represent all of the city … I think the city has just grown too big to be represented by seven members. With the annexation of a chunk of southern Delaware County, the city is even bigger … seven council members for almost 700,000 people is ludicrous…We’re out of date.”
  • In 1998, a City-appointed Charter Review Committee held a public hearing and “most of those who spoke – from neighborhoods on the South Side, East Side, Far West Side and Clintonville – said they want council members who represent their slice of the city and some members who represent the city at large.”
Action Step …

It is past time that we, as citizens, revisit our charter for the purpose of changing our council to make it reflect current conditions and the breadth and diversity of our people and our neighborhoods.  The form of government is ours to create as we like, and there is a growing consensus in favor of a change to better represent our many neighborhoods.
Unlike past efforts, Represent Columbus has been internally validating signatures as they come in, and our current count shows that we are over the 17,500 valid signature threshold required to put this issue on the ballot, and we are gathering even more for about the next ten days when we plan to submit the petitions for validation.  The Ohio Constitution requires a vote between 60 – 120 days following certification of the requisite number of signatures by council, which would indicate a likely August 2nd Special Election on this issue.
We would be very happy to come you your meeting to discuss this proposal with you and/or your commission.  During our previous attempt about a year ago that sought an 11 member council, that proposal received the voted support of those we presented it to: Greater Hilltop Area Commission, Livingston Avenue Area Commission, Near East Area Commission, Clintonville Area Commission, Milo Grogan Area Commission, and Westland Area Commission.  We would like to again solicit support from those commissions, and present to others as well, seeking their support.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like for us to share this proposal with you and your members in person. The best way to reach me is by email, at jbeard@colscompact.com, or you can reach me on my cell at 614-395-1946.  Thank  you … I hope to talk with you about this exciting chance for our neighborhoods to have consistent and focused political representation.
Sincerely,
Jonathan C. Beard, Treasurer
Represent Columbus

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