Columbus Partnership corporations quietly fund effort for a Civilian Review Board
Sign saying Citizen Police Review Board Now

A group of locally-based, high-profiled corporations are financially backing the Issue 2 campaign – for a civilian review board of the Columbus Police – but when asked whether they would officially endorse it publicly, or encourage their employees and customers to vote ‘yes,’, the answer was ‘no.’

The Columbus Partnership, the region’s so-called public-private partnership seeking prosperity for all Central Ohioans, and its biggest players have (quietly) contributed to the Issue 2 campaign. This includes Huntington Bank, Nationwide Insurance, Cardinal Heath and JP Morgan.

But they aren’t putting their mouth where their money is.

Huntington Bank was the only one to respond to repeated emails asking whether they would publicly endorse a ‘yes’ vote to finally bring a civilian review board to Columbus.

As many know, Columbus is one of the largest US cities without a civilian review board to independently investigate citizen complaints against police, and city residents are set to make a historic vote on November 3 to create one within the city charter.

“We don’t endorse issues or candidates and encourage our colleagues to make informed decisions as they fulfill their civic duty of voting,” stated Emily Smith, spokesperson for Huntington, in an email that did not include any mention of Issue 2.

Issue 2’s campaign contributions were not made public before the Free Press published this article, so amounts given are unknown.

No doubt it is a head-scratcher when the Columbus Partnership and its members are paying to help campaign for a civilian review board but then refuse to officially endorse it or even speak of Issue 2 when directly asked about it. Columbus Partnership’s director Alex Fisher by the way co-chairs the Issue 2 campaign.

Corporations publicly backing social issues is certainly nothing new or surprising, there’s all sorts of precedent – consider Starbucks and Chick-fil-A and their stances on gay marriage. Indeed, Nationwide Insurance in 2013 initiated a very public campaignadvocating for LGBT rights when they partnered with the Human Rights Campaign, which works to ensure equal rights for the LGBT community.

Issue 2 campaign manager Nick Bankston says backing the campaign financially in many ways is enough to show where a corporation stands on an issue.

“Huntington Bank is a proud supporter of Issue 2,” says Bankston. “They do understand that when they give to our campaign, that is all recorded, so I am sure they have no problem with standing behind this Issue. Corporations rarely officially endorse issues or candidates, but support via contributions.”

There is one local business, not a member of the Columbus Partnership, which is not afraid to let the buying public know they publicly support Issue 2, even if they aren’t endorsing it. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams CEO John Lowe, who is co-chairing the campaign, says Issue 2 is a “starting point for changing the way we police in Columbus.”

“Our company has not made any endorsements of candidates or issues. (But) we want members of Team Jeni’s to be engaged politically to make a better America,” says Lowe. “I decided to co-chair Issue 2 and donate to the cause because I want Columbus to no longer be the largest city in America without any civilian oversight of our police. I chose to co-chair the effort because I want to support Mayor Ginther and Council President Shannon Hardin’s efforts to be able to negotiate with the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] to change the way we police in Columbus.”

If it passes, Issue 2 will create a review board independent of Columbus police or the city Safety Director’s office, and the board will subsequently appoint an Inspector General who will have subpoena power to investigate complaints. Citizens will be able to file complaints with either the board or Internal Affairs, and the board will have the authority to initiate any investigation based off any complaint filed with Internal Affairs.

By all accounts the charter amendment has wide community support and should win on November 3.

However, the charter amendment’s ballot language does not state whether the board will have any disciplinary power, or the final say on how an officer will be punished if found guilty. This is a point of contention for critics, who have other concerns. In addition, the ballot language doesn’t say exactly who should be appointed to the board.

Will former police officers or those who represent some of our community’s most profitable corporations be on the board? Who will be the Inspector General, a retired police detective? 

Columbus leadership often touts how the region’s strong public-private partnerships have propelled our community into becoming a Midwest boomtown. The Columbus Partnership has led the way here, but local progressives believe it’s the Columbus Partnership’s way only, and everyone else be damned.

Critics of the Columbus Partnership, such as progressive activist Joe Motil, often say this public-private partnership isn’t a true partnership – instead its corporations having too much influence over the Mayor and City Council. Consider how City Council has handed out tax abatements like Halloween candy over the previous two decades to appease corporate employers and high-end developers.

So, will Issue 2’s public-private partnership work in the way many in the African-American community are hoping for? There are many working-class African Americans employed by Huntington, Nationwide, Cardinal Health, JP Morgan and others, helping to turn them into some of the most successful corporations not just locally, but nationally.

As local corporations finance the campaign but refuse to endorse, some activists who are not thrilled with Issue 2 will vote ‘yes,’ nonetheless.

De-Escalate Ohio’s director Cynthia Brown, who’s nephew was shot in back by Columbus police and killed in 2017, says the Mayor and City Council could have passed on their own similar police accountability laws passed in California and Arizona which have stricter consequences for rogue officers who use lethal force.  

“The bill is weak,” says Brown. “I realize it is a start on holding racist killer cops accountable. A start for accountability and transparency. But will the Chief of Police (Quinlan) still be in control of how officers are reprimanded? Who will be on the civilian board? Regular players?”

To Brown and others there are too many questions about how any future board will function and perform, and who exactly will be in control.

Could this board be more about what the Mayor, City Council and the Columbus Partnership think it should be? And not what activists and the mothers and relatives of those slain by police think it should be?

Bankston says the City has the authority to create a civilian review board itself. But if they do, such a review board won’t have the power to conduct independent investigations or have subpoena power. This could also be negotiated with the local FOP, but a future Mayor could negotiate such powers out of the contract.

Bankston believes the Mayor and City Council have put themselves and city residents demanding more police accountability in a strong position by putting the civilian review board on the ballot.

“By going to the voters, what this will do is establish it in the City’s actual charter and constitution, and the only way that it could ever be taken away is to go back to the voters,” says Bankston.