Today, the Columbus Dispatch ran a great op ed column from James Ragland, a community leader, small business owner, and member of One Columbus. Here’s the full column submitted by James:
It’s an exciting time to live and work in the City of Columbus. We have been ranked the best city in the nation for working moms and a top destination for African-American families. We are the top ranked Opportunity City in America, the most intelligent city, and recently won the Smart Cities challenge. Columbus is No. 1 in wage growth and has the best economy in the Midwest.
At a time when cities look to Columbus as a blueprint for the future, why would we look backward to cities like Chicago or Washington, with their unsuccessful ward-based councils, as a model for our local government?
Issue 1, which could create a council of up to 25 members based on population growth, is a deeply flawed plan that will undermine our success as a city. Issue 1 will immediately increase city government to 13 city council members — 10 elected by wards and three elected at-large. Over time, Issue 1 could grow council to 25 members.
The Issue 1 proposal is not new for Columbus. Our city had a big ward-based council in the 1800s. Like the infamous Tammany Hall, Columbus’ ward-based political system was rife with partisan infighting and dysfunctional government. Columbus voters took action, establishing a city council elected by every person in every neighborhood. Since then, voters have twice rejected ballot issues like Issue 1.
Before you vote in the August 2 special election, I encourage Columbus voters to ask three questions about Issue 1.
How much will this cost taxpayers?
This amendment forces taxpayers to pay for up to 18 new city politicians, each making approximately $75,000 per year for a part time job. The cost of a 25-member council has been estimated at over $6.4 million a year — or $260,000 a year per council member office. The process of drawing ward lines may cost over $1 million, based on the experience of other cities.
Issue 1 also will lead to expensive litigation, leaving taxpayers with the bill. Because of conflicting language in the proposed charter amendments, courts will have to decide when more council members are elected and how the partisan apportionment board can be appointed. Other cities have also seen costly lawsuits over their ward lines. For example, Chicago taxpayers had to foot a $8 million legal bill to defend its plan.
What will ward lines look like?
Unfortunately, we will not know what the wards look like until after the election. We will not know what school districts, area commissions, civic associations and neighborhoods will be split apart or pushed together to make up 10 wards with 85,000 people. For a glimpse of our future under Issue 1, look at the gerrymandered districts for the Ohio House or U.S. Congress and imagine those districts in Columbus.
To establish the wards, Issue 1 creates a new government entity, the apportionment board. This board is composed of political appointees who must be picked based on their political affiliation. They will be unelected and, therefore, unaccountable. The committee will have nearly unlimited taxpayer funds to hire expensive lawyers and political consultants to divide our city into wards.
If this new government board fails to do its job, Issue 1 gives the mayor sole authority to appoint members, appoint a ward-drawing “master,” and mandate lines for council wards.
Can we continue our city’s success under the Issue 1?
Our success is tied to collaborative initiatives such as the Infant Mortality Task Force, the transformation of Reeb Elementary School into a community center and the development of the Scioto Mile. But we know that not every neighborhood has shared in that success, so the city is addressing neighborhood concerns from Linden to the Hilltop.
Would our targeted investments be possible with up to 25 council members fighting for their parochial interests, rather than our city’s overall best interests? Issue 1 threatens to turn the “Columbus way” upside down, replacing a spirit of collaboration with an “us versus them” attitude.
Issue 1 raises too many unanswered questions. What we do know about Issue 1 clearly jeopardizes what makes our city such a special place to live, work and raise a family. What we do not know poses even greater risks.
That is why I believe Issue 1 is a risk we cannot afford and encourage you to join me in voting no on Tuesday, Aug. 2.