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Council Places Ward Representation Measure On August Ballot, Approves Two Short North Deals

May 24, 2016

Columbus City Council last night formally approved placing on the August ballot a measure asking voters to change the panel's make-up from from seven members elected at-large to 13 members, 10 of whom would be elected from wards.

The Franklin County Board of Elections last Friday said the bi-partisan group Represent Columbus had collected enough valid petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Because Council finalizes its agenda on Thursdays, the measure was not on last night's agenda, but was brought to the floor by Council president Zach Klein.

Democratic Council member Mike Stinziano attempted to discredit the proposal last night in a testy exchange with group co-chair Whitney Smith, a Republican running for the 18th Ohio House District seat, who showed up at last night's meetingĀ  to speak on unrelated legislation.

After the meeting, Stinziano also got into a heated confrontation with group co-chair Jonathan Beard. Supporters say the measure would result in better overall neighborhood representation. Opponents, including all seven council members, say ward governments are rife with the kind of corruption Represent Columbus is attempting to address. Council also approved a pair of economic development agreements that pave the way for two controversial developments in the Short North. The deals involve land swaps, tax abatements and the creation of two mixed-use buildings that opponents say violate previously set municipal standards for the neighborhood. Several opponents spoke last night, as they did a week ago. Council development committee chair Elizabeth Brown justified the votes by saying they will create much needed income tax revenue.

But city figures show income-tax revenue growth has leveled off at 3 percent a year after more than 4 percent growth from 2010 to 2013. City Auditor Hugh Dorrian has said one reason for the slower growth is the city's tax abatement policy.