Voices from the past – Columbus History on Council Districts



  • “The laboring men will not be benefited or represented in a council of seven men elected at large, four of whom, at least, will be corporation hand-picked, and will vote as the corporations dictate, as against the interests of the men who work.” (The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Four Times, Form of Government Has Been Changed, by George D. Jones, former assistant law Director, City of Columbus. May 1, 1914.)
  • “… I feel that a great injustice will be done to the great mass of our citizens should they be so unfortunate as to have the new proposed city charter foisted upon them.   It is not a reform measure, but, on the contrary, it is strongly reactionary. It is distinctly a class charter, opposed to the welfare of the people, conserving the interest of the scholastic and the high class business man. It is, therefore, unfair, un-American and should be destroyed … evidently the whole intention of these master commissioners is to prohibit the frequency of elections; remove them as far as possible out of the hands of the ‘common herd’ of mankind; lengthen terms of office, reduce the number of elective officers, and, in a word, establish an aristocratic system.” (Thomas E. Beall. The Columbus Dispatch: A Reactionary Charter: To the Editor, May 3, 1914.)
  • “Sir: If representative government, whereby a portion of the nation, state and city, chooses men to represent it in congress, the legislature and council, is right, the new charter which provides for election of councilmen at large, is wrong. If representative government is wrong, the new charter is right. It should not take much time for a good American to decide which he thinks is right, and which wrong, and vote accordingly at Tuesday’s election.” (Ann L. McCoy. The Columbus Dispatch: A Short Question: To the Editor, May 3, 1914.)
  • “How can the laboring men, who work in shops and factories and along other lines of employment, cease from work and call at the city hall to urge upon city officials and members of council the many improvements which the neighbor hoods in which they live demand and especially when these visits will be made to men whom they have never met and who are not familiar with the localities in which these working men live? The present members of council, elected as they are by wards, can be seen by the people whom they represent at most any hour of the day or night. Their constituents are acquainted with them, as friends and neighbors, and therefore feel free to talk of required improvements or file complaints. (The Columbus Sunday Dispatch. Vote Against the Charter Because It Will Destroy Home Rule (Political Advertisement), May 3, 1914.)
  • “The Franklin County Democratic Club requests you to go to the polls and vote and work against the proposed charter tomorrow, May 5th”. (Columbus Citizen. Charter is Adopted by Majority of 1042; Effective in 1916, May 6, 1914.)




  • The City-appointed Charter Revision Committee reported that “Columbus has been growing with ever-increasing rapidity, both in area and population, and the present Charter is no longer in tune with the times,” and recommended “an increase in the size of Council from 7 to 9.” (Report of the Charter Revision Committee to the Council of the City of Columbus, Ohio, December 19, 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. (The Columbus Dispatch. 13 Member Council On May 7 Ballot, March 5, 1968.)
  • The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution in support of the 13 member, District-led council proposal, saying “approval of the proposed amendments would provide area representation on a proportionate population basis, whereby citizens in every part of the city would have assured access to their elected councilmen.” (The Columbus Dispatch. C of C Alters Stand on Charter Change, April 29, 1968.)


  • Councilmember Dr. John Rosemond, the first African American elected to council under the At Large scheme, endorsed a Charter Amendment placed before the voters to form an 11 member council consisting of 6 Districts during his run for Mayor against Republican Tom Moody. Both he, and the amendment, were soundly defeated. [Historical note: the first African American councilmember was Rev. James Preston Poindexter, elected in 1880 when Columbus had a 19 member council, with 3 elected At Large and 16 elected from Wards (Rev. Poindexter was elected from the 2nd Ward). After the 1914 change to an At Large system, it was 55 years before another African American was elected to council, in the person of Dr. Rosemond in 1969.]  (The Columbus Dispatch. Expanded Council Put to City Voters, July 22, 1975.)
  • “Under existing regulations, about half of the television time, including the prime-time hours, is supposed to be made available for public use. The other half of the time is to be used by the city for television government information and city council meetings. Much of the public use is expected to be informational programs by social service groups, educational groups, and scouting organizations. However, individuals will also be given the chance to broadcast their own shows and viewpoints.” (The Columbus Dispatch. Fight Brews Over Control of City Cable TV Channel, February 23, 1981.) [Note: City Council has eliminated all funding for public access television, and refuses to reinstate the funding and the public’s access to the mass media station the public, through the City of Columbus, owns. Instead, CTV-3 operates with programming controlled exclusively by city government and no public programming.]


  • Councilmember Maury (M.D.) Portman advocated for an expansion of Council to 9 members, saying “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. One council member represents 100,000 people? We’re out of date.” (The Columbus Dispatch. 9-Seat Council Pushed, June 13, 1991.)


  • A five member Charter Review Commission initiated by Mayor Rinehart, Council President Lazarus, and City Attorney O’Brien recommended further studying the size and composition of council. (The Columbus Dispatch. City Charter – Council Submits, Voters Decide on Revisions, March 21, 1993.) [Note: This recommendation was dismissed by City Council and never brought to a vote.]
  • “The open forum at the end of each Columbus City Council meeting should continue to be televised, a task force has concluded. ‘A responsive governing body will place a high value on the involvement of citizens in the legislated process,’ concluded the panel, headed by Councilwoman Jennette Bradley. ‘This language … guarantees those permitted to speak before council the right to be televised on the public access channel.’ In the past, Columbus City Council has provided an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions about proposed legislation at council meetings and public hearings, the task force said, it is the opinion of this committee that this citizen involvement should continue.” (The Columbus Dispatch. September 11, 1993.) [Note: Council woman Bradley was the last Republican on Council. Council terminated the “right” for citizens to speak in open forum at the end of council and have that speech broadcast on the public access channel. In addition, Council has terminated and continues to refuse to provide funding for Public Access Television, over the objections of many citizens.]
  • “The high cost of running for the Columbus City Council, which has nearly doubled in four years, has renewed calls for city campaign finance reform. The trio of incumbents who won this year spent an average of more than $155,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday. The losers in the six-way contest spent an average of about $25,000 … ‘It really cuts out the people who want to run and want to serve, who do not have the resources to put the money in it … you don’t need to be raising a half-million dollars for that kind of position,’ Sams said, ‘electing some council representatives from wards would cut down on the need for huge campaign bankrolls as well a give neighborhoods a greater voice on the council.’” (The Columbus Dispatch. Quoting Ron Sams, Republican candidate for City Council, in Lazarus, Others Sound Reform Call on City Elections, December 13, 1993.) [Note: campaign finance reform was never enacted by City Council. In 2011 elections, incumbents raised and spent over $790,000, while the challengers raised and spent $240,000 combined. Campaign finance reform exists in other At Large cities; however, such as Austin, TX.]
  • “Salerno said campaign finance reform is needed to level the playing field for challengers, who usually have fewer connections with high-powered contributors. ‘If it takes six figures to win elections locally, you’re just going to continue to have incumbents win’, Salerno said. ‘It doesn’t allow the public the access they should have to the challengers.” (The Columbus Dispatch. Quoting Amy Salerno, Republican candidate for City Council, in Lazarus, Others Sound Reform Call on City Elections, December 13, 1993.)
  • “When you’ve got a couple hundred thousand dollars in the bank, it’s a lot easier to just pull the wagons in a circle and wait until that last two weeks for a media blitz, ‘ he said. ‘I had difficulty in engaging the opposition in any meaningful discussion of the issues … The people who can solve the problem are the people who benefit most from the status quo.’” (The Columbus Dispatch. Quoting Richard Whitehouse, Republican candidate for City Council, in Lazarus, Others Sound Reform Call on City Elections, December 13, 1993.)


  • By 1994, even the Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board wrote about a proposed campaign finance reform initiative for Columbus City Council: “Cynicism about government at all levels has been growing for some time. Certainly the huge amounts of money that grease the election process result in many citizens believing officeholders do the bidding of their powerful supporters, and the average citizen has almost no voice.” (The Columbus Dispatch. Campaign Gold – Council Working toward Election Reform, July 21, 1994.)


  • 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.” (The Columbus Dispatch. Ward-Government Idea for City Has Its Constituency, June 24, 1998.)
  • Former councilmember Portman reiterated, “Seven council members for a city this size is ridiculous, you can’t possibly be in touch with citizens regularly. You can’t rely on your aides completely, and you can’t rely on the commissions. I feel that the most practical solution would divide the city into districts, and to prevent conflicts, you should have a certain number of at-large members to balance it out.” (The Columbus Dispatch, June 24, 1998.)
  • “Columbus voters ought to reflect upon several questions. Does this tightly controlled, one-party legislative body impact the city’s growth and competitiveness? Can council members appointed to office by their fellow members and re-elected as part of a “team’ possibly have sufficient independence to think “out of the box” or aggressively oppose other council members? Can this tiny body of seven people really reflect the needs of a community nearly three-quarters of a million in size? Finally, when more than 90 percent of council membes who have served since 1985 have ben appointed to their seats and then run as incumbents a year or two later, is new talent and fresh thinking being sacrificed for party loyalty?” (Ernie J. Shannon, Columbus City Council, October 2009.)


  • Former Columbus City Council President John Kennedy said of a discussion of District-based governance: “it’s a fair issue to look at as the city grows.” (The Columbus Dispatch. Group’s New Push: Columbus Council Elections By District, November 5, 2010.)


  • Finally, Columbus — the largest city in Ohio by both population and geography — has a smaller council than Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Parma, Toledo, and Youngstown. Among Ohio’s largest cities, only Dayton has a smaller council than Columbus. (The Columbus Dispatch. Only Inconsistencies Rule in Big-City Councils, May 1, 2011.)