There is an old joke I remember:

Q.: “How do you know when a politician is lying”
A: “His/her lips are moving.”

This certainly seems to be the case with One Columbus, the politician-supported political action committee (PAC) formed to oppose Issue 1 – the citizen’s ballot issue that will be voted on in a special election August 2nd proposing a change to Columbus City Council. The group appears to be launching a campaign against the citizens’ initiative, based solely on lies or distortions.

Don McTigue, Democratic Party lawyer and long-time campaign finance treasurer for Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and other council Democrats, registered the One Columbus trade name and filed as a PAC on May 31, 2016. Although details are murky in this secretive group that does not reveal names, former Ginther staffer Brian Clarke apparently took a leave of absence from City Hall to head this group.

The One Columbus PAC drew immediate scorn on Facebook for its disregard of the truth in its postings, and for its blocking of comments from people who commented in support of Issue 1, or who corrected the untruths being promoted by the group. This writer, long-time involved Clintonville resident Joe Motil, attorney Thomas Tootle and Outlook Columbus Editor Bob Vitale were all blocked from posting to One Columbus – apparently to preserve the belief that all of Columbus (One Columbus) believes the same thing.

In a post on Facebook, Vitale wrote “After sharing two thoughts - civilly! - on their posts, I have been banned from commenting on the Facebook page of One Columbus, the group that believes the current system of citywide, overwhelmingly appointed council representation is the best we can do in our local democracy. I am voting YES on Tuesday, Aug. 2, in favor of district representation. I am voting YES in favor of political discussion in Columbus. And if you disagree with me, I won't block you from speaking.”

James Ragland, former candidate for mayor in the 2015 Democratic Party primary, was later hired to promote the group’s messages and claims changing the form of government would lead to partisan infighting and dysfunction.

The Koch Brothers Boogieman

In new false literature, the group claims that Issue 1 is “pushed by people tied to the Koch Brothers” – a claim which is clearly a dog whistle to the left-wing of the Democratic Party – a claim for which they present no evidence, and which is absolutely untrue. Represent Columbus is co-chaired by this writer, an unendorsed but citizen-elected Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee member for Ward 55 (Franklin Park and Olde Towne East), and Whitney Smith, a Republican running for state representative in the 18th Ohio House District. The issue of the structural defect in our representation is shared by Democrats and Republicans alike – but probably not by the Koch brothers.

The Koch Brothers connection claimed by the opponents of Issue 1 is similar to council member Mike Stinziano’s verbal attack on Ms. Smith trying to tie her to Donald Trump – a false claim she refuted at the May 23rd council meeting. It is clear that no lie is too big for One Columbus to try as they seek to manufacture partisan divisions that do not exist.

Distortion: A Huge City Council at High Cost

One Columbus claims that Issue 1 would eventually create a cost of $6,500,000 for 25 politicians, if the city grew in size. While based loosely on a provision of the amendment that allows for the size of council to increase with population growth and decrease with population decreases (i.e., for every change of 150,000 in population, the council would add or subtract two districts accordingly), One Columbus neglects to clarify that a 25 member council would require a doubling of the city’s population to 1,650,000 – a growth rate that is not projected anytime over the next 50 years.

The best and longest range population projections come from the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), which are used by various governmental entities for planning purposes, including multibillion infrastructure planning. Nancy Reger, Director of Data and Mapping at MORPC, confirms MORPC’s population estimate for Columbus in the year 2050 as 955,020 – which per the Issue 1 council size formula would allow for 12 districts (15 council members total, including the three at large) – not the 25 council members claimed by One Columbus in its fear-mongering campaign that form the basis for its wild claims of exorbitant cost.

Any discussion of the size of council is also incomplete without recognizing that Columbus has under-invested in its council for years – with 7 members –whereas the average in top 25 cities in the U.S. is a 13 member council, with two elected at large and 11 from districts. Indeed, every major Ohio city except Dayton currently has a larger council than Columbus’s – even though Columbus is the biggest by population and geographic size.

And of course, if the council was ever deemed too large by future generations, the charter could be amended by vote to establish a new number. The charter has been amended about 75 times since it was enacted – so while Issue 1 creates a mechanism to handle growth or decline, it can be changed if voters so desire. One Columbus goes even further to equate its calculation of the costs of a 25 member council to 65 police officers – again, a false, irresponsible and wildly misleading comparison that in no way reflects reality.

Lie: Council Will Be Paid Too Much for Part-Time Work

As part of its opposition to Issue One, One Columbus proclaims council members would earn “$80,705 for a part-time job.” However, Issue 1 does not address council salaries, nor does it change the current charter definition of a council position as a part-time job. Our understanding is that council members are currently paid $52,000 per year – not $80,705 – so we have no idea how this figure came up and why it is attached to our citizen initiative, other than it being an attempt to mislead voters into thinking Issue 1 does something new and wasteful. Or perhaps One Columbus is raising the issue that current council members are paid too much for their part-time jobs. Council members did vote in 2014 to approve Issue 8 – a ballot issue that mandated automatic annual pay increases for council members and other elected officials.

Fear Mongering

Among the common refrains of the anti-Issue 1 crowd is “Should we look to bankrupt cities like Detroit or Chicago as a model for our local government? Is our goal to turn city council into another Congress or Statehouse, full of partisan bickering?”

In its fear mongering, One Columbus and its allies miss the fact that “bankrupt” Detroit had an all at-large city council until their 2013 elections, as if its financial problems were caused by a city council and not by the globalization of heavy industry and court-ordered busing to desegregate schools and the resultant “white flight” – both of which rocked “rust belt cities” in the 1970s and beyond, and have been far more impactful than the form of city council).

Of course, because Columbus does not have navigatible waterways, it did not develop heavy industry at the turn of the 20th century like Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, etc. which then suffered when multinational corporations figured out how to outsource production to low cost foreign lands. In fact, a primary similarity between Detroit and Columbus under their at-large forms of government is that both have had federal investigations of the mayors – certainly not something to brag about. This is something One Columbus ignores as it goes on this tangent of equating form of government with city success while ignoring macro social and economic issues far beyond the influence of any city council.

It is clear that One Columbus will stamp their feet and hold their collective breath like a petulant child, and refuse to play well with others. Like angry toddlers, they have been clear that they think this is their sandbox, and they don’t want anybody else to play in it. However, it is the people’s sandbox, and we have probably let them play in our sandbox for too long, which is why they appear deluded into thinking that it is theirs.

On August 2nd voters have the opportunity to vote in a Special Election – called by the people of Columbus – to reform our government and make it responsive to the masses of everyday citizens. Represent Columbus is now circulating a petition seeking a vote on term limits for the office of mayor. If two terms are enough for president and governor, two terms are enough for our mayor. This should help earn back public trust by preventing the type of insider politics and resulting corruption that have been uncovered recently in Columbus. The one-party partisan way of thinking, believing and acting that Unity Ticket/One Columbus believes is a virtue has no place in our growing, multicultural and diverse city.

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