Columbus Ohio bicycle cops at downtown protest. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Part Three

Private (aka Public) Service

As the foregoing demonstrates, Zoning is central to The Columbus Way. So too is Jennifer Gallagher’s far too large, disorganized, uncoordinated, and city wrecking Division of Private (aka Public) Service. This division makes no organizational, operational, or logical sense, as it waddles from parking enforcement to right of ways (roads and sidewalks) inspection and maintenance, signage, street sweeping, construction of various kinds, awarding of contracts to short-term lease vehicles and electric scooter and bicycle rental companies for their objects to dangerously and harmfully litter the sidewalks and streets of the city,

I can find little beneficial to the public in their work. Gallagher herself is under long term investigation by the State Board of Ethics for granting construction contracts to her husband’s company, a violation of the City code and many laws on many levels. A functioning city with responsible leadership would have demanded her resignation long ago. But Columbus is not that, and she no doubt shares her private payoffs with others.

Private Service is the quintessential caricature of corrupt, anti-public non-service city government. They do not inspect or maintain streets and sidewalks regardless of reports. That’s too difficult and necessitates spending money, rather than profiting from selling contracts to external companies and fees to residents. The most insular of Columbus divisions, they answer no questions and explain nothing. Apparently, they believe that the laws do not apply to them.

Private Services sold contracts to now out of business European companies to allow short-lease vehicles to be left like litter in the same parking places they also sold to resident permit parking holders. That is, double selling the same spaces. I learned this from CPD officers who did not know what to do with these illegally abandoned cars.

Upon investigation, I learned that Private Services awarded these and then electronic scooter rental contracts with no consultation with city council, CPD, or any public input. This is not legal. But this is Columbus, Ohio. No one will answer my direct question: why are scooters not required to be locked in designated spots like electric bicycles in Columbus and scooters in every other major US city? That would make a modicum of sense. But this is Columbus. Ohio.

Three years ago, in response to my emerging concern, I was told by three city council legislative aides that scooter regulation was imminent. I personally provided information on programs in other U.S. cities. All three aides left the city. No regulation ever developed, beyond a sloganesque bit of show and tell in the declining but private property owners—and mayor and council contributing--favored Short North (which is not an “arts district” by any stretch of the imagination).

Instead of regulation, Private Services sold the rights to safety, cleanliness, and public health to three scooter rental companies without formal consultation with CPD, city council, or public input. Almost unanimously, the dangerous, littering scooters are “hated” to use the word used by every CPD officer to whom I speak, drivers, and walkers, and even most OSU students in my neighborhood. They illegally litter sidewalks, yards, and street corners with no penalty. No one stops their illegal riding on sidewalks. The OSU campus is a very dangerous place.

Private Services meaninglessly justified short term lease and scooter rentals with the nonsense that they “enhance mobility.” Both moving and stationary, they actually interfere with and impede pedestrians, anyone walking with assistance, strollers, and carriages.

The law itself is a contradiction in terms that befuddles the police. It allows scooters to be left on sidewalks as long as they do not interfere with movement. That is a rational and a physical impossibility. But no one in City government or employment knows or cares.

No comparable U.S. city allows the unregulated operation and littering of electronic scooters. My wife and I returned from three Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, visiting as many as 10 college campuses. We encountered no scooter problem anywhere, until we returned home.

Relatedly, for more money making, Private Services make it more difficult to park and pay parking fees, discriminated against those who do not have cell phones and use apps, reduced the number of senior spaces, and it more difficult for CPD to identity illegally parked vehicles.

In addition, Privates Service replaced tried and true traditional parking permit stickers easily seen by neighbors and CPD with online apps with higher charges and external corporate vendors. Only profiteering Private Services benefited. Everyone else lost.

Illegal money-making while neglecting the broken streets and sidewalks is what occupies Private Services. They do not serve the actual publics of the city of Columbus. That’s not the Columbus  Way.

The unsafe city; Let us count the ways

To anyone who reads the newspaper, listens to radio, or watches TV, it is not news—outside City Hall and CPD, that is--that Columbus is not only a very unsafe city but among the most dangerous and violent in the US. At present, there is one or more shooting death each day by CPD or others. With regular violent murders occurring in the Short North, it is clear that the small, statistically insignificant 2022 drop about which Ginther, the CPD chief, and head of the failing Department of Public Health fussed so much is irrelevant.

Ginther and his unknowledgeable buddies respond less persuasively each week. Declaring “gun violence a public health crisis” and daily murders—among so much other evidence of lack of safety--“unacceptable” is worth less than the air and spittle expelled and the print the Dispatch spills in its Indiana printing plant. It demonstrates a lack of understanding, thought, and responsibility. And a lack of policy and programs.

How unconvincing is the mayor, his increasing number of offices and appointees, city council committees, and CPD Chief still unfamiliar with the city to which she and her first assistant moved from very different Detroit to repeat the same empty slogans but take no responsible action.

Safety must build on knowledge. Let’s enumerate some of the ways.

Ginther and Bryant must seriously and strategically rebuild the never well organized, trained or commanded force that Ginther recklessly and wastefully reduced. His anti-safety, anti-city actions never made sense in buying off retirements without guidelines or accountability. In fact, they encouraged some of the best to flee, with payments, the sinking ship. I have spoken with a number of them.

Ginther and Bryant cannot move forward with increasing the already unacceptable proportion of 80% of officers living outside the city they are employed to police and unfamiliar with Columbus, with 18-year-olds (as the State Legislature is in the process of approving), or slogans like 30 by 30 (30 percent of the force female by 1930).

CPD remains not only severely short-handed, but little has been done to improve poor organization, communication, command, and training. Each time I call 911 or Non-Emergency, the realities of the failing force are reinforced. Communications and organization have weakened under Bryant. The many police to whom I speak have little confidence in her leadership or the City’s—though they express themselves carefully about it. Bryant is too little heard or seen by either the force or the public. The media are surprised when she appears.

The City must finally renegotiate its contract with the Fraternal Order of Police. That contract itself is a persisting threat to our safety.

CPD must discipline its officers. Police misconduct from daily disrespect of residents to shooting on first sight remains rife, and maintains Columbus’ place as a national leader in the worse ways. This includes police killing of unarmed young Black men, and some women, and violence by officers particularly at peaceful protestors.

As with the City itself, slogans must end. Policies, programs, budgets, timetables, and consistent accountability must replace them. Columbus must learn from other cities.

More specifically, among others who read studies, I have urged councilors including the current head of the public safety committee, Remy, to institute responsible (i.e., $200-300 per weapon) gun buy-back programs. I have shared studies with the City for more than three years. These programs work well to reduce substantially the number of weapons in the hands of non-hardened criminals. That also reduces the number that children may pick up, play with, or carry outside their homes, and possibly fire accidentally or purposefully.

No program will remove all risks. But there are many routes to lessening high risks. Fewer guns at hand, at home, on the streets is one. It works far more than early evening basketball leagues.

Insisting and enforcing locking up all guns, which the City encourages off and on, must be shouted from all rooftops not occupied by 45 drunken  OSU students.

More and better policing in direct coordination with other social programs, never one or the other is imperative. I list some of the most important:

*More and better patrolling everywhere but especially higher risk areas. Do not shift police from all other the city to concentrate in the Short North for show and reward private interests.

*Traffic patrolling. Many shootings and other violence begin among drivers.

*At present, there is no traffic policing anywhere in the unsafe city. For example, my neighboring Indianola, Lane, and especially Summit are like race tracks. Speeding on Summit is much like I-70 and 71. CPD is never present.

*Columbus must finally complete a city-wide system of bicycles lanes like most major cities.

*To generalize, no law is regularly enforced in Columbus. The reasons why demand an essay or a book by itself.

*Driving drunk is mainly tolerated because of the lack of traffic policing. Similarly, CPD and Public Health must enforce the alcohol, tobacco, and vaping laws. They are not at present.

*The State of Ohio fails us first by not requiring annual state inspection of all vehicles, and now by granting six months leeway before the prohibition of driving distracted by electronic device is enforced. I for one cannot imagine consistent enforcement. There is for nothing else.

*The lack of repair of streets is an active factor in increasing unsafety.

*Out of control, dangerous construction sites with no planning or traffic control must be eliminated. Private construction including OSU building do not trump public safety.

*Actual traffic engineers must turn many areas of the city into safer one-way street systems, and re-examine the use and location of warning signs and systems.

Far more and different policing is required.

*Poverty, hunger, ill-health, homelessness, differently abled, and their causes and correlates are inescapably interconnected with unsafety of all. They must be addressed directly, equitably, and affordability.

*Addressing epidemic levels of mental illnesses in multiple ways in no way substitutes for gun control or mandate gun safety. They are complementary not alternatives. To argue to the contrary denies reality.

*Children, the elderly, non-English speakers, and the differently abled must be protected.

I end with these questions: Does Columbus want to change? Dare to change? Care to change? Can Columbus afford not to change?


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current, Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2022. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.