City: Group seeks to change City Council format

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From the February 23, 2012 edition

For nearly 100 years, Columbus City Council has consisted of seven at-large members elected by voters citywide. A local organization wants to change that.

A nonprofit called the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government is trying to rally support for a petition that would create a council with four at-large members representing the entire city and seven others elected from specific districts. The group is launching another signature drive March 1, so you might be stopped by someone with a clipboard.

Here’s what to know before you respond.

Why does the organization want to change the council’s current set-up?

In letters sent last month to City Council, the coalition wrote that “a rotating cast” of at-large members has been out of touch or unresponsive to serious neighborhood issues. It argued that an at-large system strengthens well-funded constituencies at the expense of other citizens.

Why do many favor the current at-large system?

Opponents of the ward or district model note that it often creates fighting or apathy. They contend that district representatives vie to bring limited resources to their own neighborhoods but don’t care what happens in the rest of the city. Those who support at-large systems argue that voters get a larger say in government by electing more representatives.

What council system do other cities use?

Other cities are split among at-large and district representation. Cleveland elects 19 ward representatives, while Cincinnati has nine at-large members. Indianapolis convenes a county-wide council with 25 district and four at-large members. Austin elects six at-large members, while Seattle votes for nine.

How does the process work?

The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government must collect 8,951 signatures, said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections. If the organization acquires enough valid signatures, the petition would be submitted to City Council for consideration.

The council could sign it into law, which would amend the city charter. If it votes against the initiative, the council would send the issue to the ballot in the next municipal election, which takes place Nov. 6.

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