Comic about Columbus City Council denying people's vote

Under the state constitution and the Columbus City Charter, everyday citizens have the right to propose legislation using the citizen initiatives process. In short, if citizens can collect 10 percent of valid signatures from registered Columbus voters, the Columbus City Council is required to put the question on the ballot for a vote. Two groups have recently sought to use those provisions. In a tough year for citizen initiatives, both have failed for lack of sufficient signatures – but those failures exposed apparent manipulations of city government seemingly designed to make the process even more arduous – if not impossible for citizens to exercise their constitutional rights.
   City Council President and Mayoral Candidate Andrew Ginther is leading the chorus of citizen suppression, with City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer serving as hype man for the new band, launching “yeah boyyyeeee” whenever Ginther clamps down more on local democracy. Pfeiffer has provided legal ammunition to keep citizen initiatives off the ballot and has tried to strengthen Ginther’s claims that he was not bribed as a Redflex executive said in her federal guilty plea.
   To mix metaphors, the question for Council is how much longer they will act like Jim Jones’s followers, and continue to drink the Ginther Kool Aid, which is alienating citizens and would seem to inevitably lead to political suicide.

City Council Fights Citizen Initiatives

   The citizens’ right to petition our government and to legislate in our own interests has created great advances across the country, as people are willing to act while governmental officials preserve entrenched special interests.

Columbus Community Bill of Rights would provide local control over hazardous fracking operations

   The Columbus Community Bill of Rights initiated a petition designed to reserve the right of the City of Columbus to regulate or ban, fracking-related activities. The proposal was advanced as potentially radioactive fracking waste was permitted by the state to be dumped near Alum Creek, and with thirteen existing fracking wells already drilled in the Columbus watershed.   
   Under current law, local communities have no say in fracking-related activities – the Bill of Rights sought to change that by ensuring that Columbus could proclaim an “unalienable right” to regulate fracking activities to ensure clean soils and safe drinking water for the people of Columbus. On July 27, City Council voted 7-0 to reject the citizen’s initiative, and refused to put the issue on the ballot themselves.

The Columbus City Council reform amendment sought to make City Council responsive to the will of the people of Columbus

   The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (“the Coalition”) initiated a petition to reform Columbus City Council and make it more accountable to the people and less beholden to special interests. This proposal, too, was opposed by a council seemingly wedded to the current “pay to play” system that has resulted in a federal attempted bribery conviction for one business executive who alleged paying off Columbus officials with campaign contributions funneled through lobbyist John Raphael, to receive and retain contracts to run the city’s former red light camera enforcement program. Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Council President Andrew Ginther, and former council president Mike Mentel have been repeatedly named as people being investigated with respect to the alleged Redflex bribes; the probe has been expanded, though, and there is now a broader federal bribery investigation of City Hall.
   While Council president Ginther was quoted as saying he met several times with accused briber and disgraced lobbyist John Raphael, the Coalition website documents a June 8, 2012 letter from Andrew Ginther that “I am aware of your standing meeting request, and my office will contact you at a time when a meeting might be appropriate.” Apparently the petition signatures of over 100,000 Columbus residents on three major issues over the last three years does not make a meeting about city council appropriate, because neither Ginther nor his office contacted the Coalition to arrange one, although he did send a letter copied to the chief of police, city attorney and safety director telling the Coalition not to have information sent to council members at their homes. (Was it a threat of calling the Po-Po on us? We’re trembling).

City Council lies to the public during last year’s election – still lying today

   Last year, after three months of sparsely attended Charter Review Commission meetings, the City Council put issues 6, 7 and 8 on the ballot seeking citizen votes to amend the City Charter. Issue 7 dealt with changing the city’s charter requirements for citizen-initiated ordinances and recall petitions. The proposal immediately drew the concern of this writer, as many of the provisions seemed to make exercising of our constitutional rights to control our governance more difficult, while enhancing government’s power at our expense.
   This author expressed displeasure with new mandatory requirements on the form of the petition, which exceeded state law. Further, this author questioned whether petitions currently being circulated (under existing rules) would be invalidated for not complying with the newly proposed petition form rules. Both Bryan Clark, senior Legislative Aid to City Council and Assistant Attorney Josh Cox affirmed that existing petitions would be grandfathered in, under the new rules. An October 17, 2014 email from Cox said “In making a petition sufficiency determination, the current requirements as to the form of the petition and the pre-circulation filing would be applied to anything currently being circulated. In other words, I agree with Mr. Clark’s statement below that you would not have to 'start over.'”
   Further, at a League of Women Voters debate, Charter Review Commission Chair Mike Curtin repeated the city talking point (a.k.a., the lie to the people) by insisting the language of the charter did not allow council to reject petitions based on their content – that legal sufficiency is defined as number of signatures and form of petition only. At the debate, Curtin also clarified that the charter revisions stated explicitly that no city official may consider the subject of a petition in making a determination of sufficiency.
   In response to a request for comment, Curtin admitted to being hazy on the details given the time lapsed and all the materials place before the commission, but added “One thing I believe I remember correctly is that the commission assured the public that City Council would have no ability to reject a proposed charter change based on the subject matter of the proposed charter amendment. I believe I referred to Council's role under the proposed charter amendments as 'ministerial' – in that the Council vote to be taken in forwarding a proposed charter change to the Board of Elections could not be based on agreement or disagreement with the proposed policy change.”
   Curtin continued, “Re: the role of the city attorney and the city clerk, I simply will have to go back and review the record. But I believe the overall thrust of the proposed amendments was to ensure that a group seeking a proposed charter amendment or city code change would not get hung up on a technicality based on the forms/templates of the petitions.”
   However, while Curtin was right on what the City was saying, he was wrong on how the City would implement the wording, as the City included an evaluation of subject under the heading “form of petition,” and Pfeiffer’s two memos on sufficiency and Council’s action clearly addressed the petition subjects of Council districts and public financing of Council campaigns – even though Ginther, as they passed the ordinance rejecting the petitions blatantly and falsely, stated that the Council did not consider the subject matter.

The Triumph Communications/ProgressOhio Issue 7 smear campaign

   Likely, also unknown to Curtin, is that local the Democratic Party’s political operative, Triumph Communication, where Ginther was formerly employed, was having conversations and  funding a proposal by ProgressOhio, led by former Executive Director Brian Rothenberg and Board Chair Antoinette Wilson, to engage in a smear campaign against citizens speaking out against Issue 7. This smear campaign was designed to “highlight the questionable practices of the opposition,” “hold a press conference calling for official action around inappropriate activities of opposition leadership,” and “outline questionable practices of opposition organization and leader.” The Triumph funded smear campaign also had a “success fee,” similar to John Raphael’s success fee with Redflex. Instead of addressing the legitimate issues being raised by the opposition, this smear campaign was apparently designed to undermine independent thinking and to suppress the truth being spoken by the grassroots opposition, that Issue 7 was in fact an “undemocratic power grab” by the City of Columbus as claimed during the election, and as events have since shown. But as often happens to the dastardly plans of cartoon villains, the plan backfired.
   To date, Issue 7 opponents are not aware if the effort was launched, and certainly did not feel its results; the only calls for official action have been the FBI investigation of bribery allegations against city officials – not against leaders of the opposition to Issue 7 for whatever “questionable practices” the proponents of repression sought to expose. Further, ProgressOhio’s “pay to play” work with Responsible Ohio’s marijuana petition has been exposed at Attorney Don McTigue has subsequently filed a cease and desist letter on behalf of ProgressOhio with The Cleveland Leader. The smear campaign effort to inhibit a robust election discussion of all the issues is typical of the Ginther Council, which refuses to give citizens access to public access television or even to let citizens speak on camera during City Council meetings on items the Council has not put on the agenda.
   As of press time, Council member Ginther’s campaign finance report for the second half of 2014 had not been filed, so The Free Press was unable to see if this effort with Triumph Communications was funded by Ginther’s PAC, which regularly contracts with Triumph on election-related matters. It is amazing and stunning that City leaders are so arrogant that they would attack citizens who are concerned about preserving our constitutional rights and engaged in truthful political dialogue about what is going on. This is a corruption of the highest degree. More than ever it calls for a dramatic citizen-led reform of the current regime.
   As revelations about the Triumph Communications/ProgressOhio’s smear campaign came forward, the Coalition began to better understand why ProgressOhio’s Rothenberg challenged an earlier Coalition campaign finance reform petition at the Board of Elections, using election law superstar attorney  McTigue as his lawyer. In addition to being on ProgressOhio’s Board, McTigue also serves as Treasurer for the Coleman for Columbus and Friends for Ginther Political Action Committees. The incestuous nature of these Democratic Party insiders allows them to oppose things other Democrats support.
   And the lies continue: to address the concerns being raised during the Issue 7 election season last fall, the city put a “Fact Sheet” of claims and facts on its website. That website is still up, still spewing false information (

Claim: Issue 7 allows the city to use a new, vague standard to decide if an issue goes on the ballot.

Fact:Our charter and the Ohio constitution have used the same standard for 100 years. Referred to as “sufficiency,” the standard for placing an issue on the ballot is strictly limited by law and the Ohio Supreme Court. Issue 7 continues that standard, without change. 

Fact:The Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a councilmay onlyconsidertwo thingsin placing an issue on the ballot –are there enough signaturesandis the petition legally sufficientas to form. Those two questions determine ifa petition is sufficient. Also, Issue 7 explicitly says no city representative may consider the subject matter of a petition –whether a law is constitutional cannot be considered by the city because that’s the court’s role.  

Claim:Issue 7 will force anyone circulating a petition to “start over” if approved by voters.

Fact:According to the city attorney’s office, in making a petition sufficiency determination, the current requirements as to the form of the petition and the pre-circulation filing would be applied to anything currently being circulated. In other words a petitioner wouldn’t have to “start over.”

   However, each of those “facts” claimed by the City turned out to be lies. By the time the Columbus Community Bill of Rights turned in their signed petitions,  Cox, chief counsel in the City Attorney’s office said “the group must follow the new petition form and rules. If there are defects in the form, yes, the petition could be thrown out,” he is quoted by The Columbus Dispatch as saying, and Rick Pfeiffer at Council’s July 27 meeting listed all the ways the Bill of Rights petition unlawfully differed from the petition template developed eight months after Bill of Rights began circulating their petition.
   Further, in contrast to the website saying “no City representative may consider the subject matter of a petition – whether a law is constitutional cannot be considered by the city because that’s the court’s role,” In fact, City Attorney Pfeiffer wrote in a May 20, 2015 legal opinion specifically about what he defined as two subjects in the Coalition’s proposal (Council districts and financing Council elections). Pfeiffer says our City Charter says that “only one subject matter can be considered.” However, Pfeiffer does not appear to acknowledge the case law that he cites on single subject repeatedly affirms that relevant issues that are all related to a subject do not violate the single subject rule. Instead his advice to Council was that Council districts (not council reform) was our proposal and that the issue of how to finance Council elections is an unlawful separate issue.
   On July 27, Near East Side citizen activist Willis Brown asked Council, “What are you afraid of? Put it on the ballot.” He further talked about the lack of Asians, Somalis and Latinos on Council and declared “It’s time for people to march on this Council.” In further comments, Brown indicated that it is outrageous the City Council and the City Attorney have put themselves in the position of deciding what the people of Columbus can put on the ballot.
   Pfeiffer also objected to the Columbus City Council Reform Amendment saying the title does not clearly and unambiguously state what it proposes to do. Pfeiffer said “…this petition proposes to change the composition of City Council, right now you are seven at large this proposal would changes that so you are four at large and seven from wards…and I would say that I just clearly stated that, which I don’t believe the title does…” However, even in that unwieldy sentence Pfeiffer neglects that the petition also formed an Apportionment Board and gave it instructions, set term limits on Council service, changed the mid-term appointment process to council, assigned current Council members to districts before setting at large elections over a two year transition period, and required Council to enact a law to provide for public financing of council campaigns.
   In other words, it embraced a more comprehensive City Council reform than just districts, as case law specifically says legislation can do. One wonders if there is any title that could have met Pfeiffer’s arbitrary scrutiny and rejection of the encompassing title of reform. The purpose of a title is to allow legislators to know in general which issue they are voting on – not to summarize the contents. As Council’s Senior Legislative Aide, Clark said on June 26, 2014 at a Charter Review Commission meeting when discussing the text of referendums, “Anyone who has either worked here at City Council or attended one of our scintillating Monday night meetings knows that the title of the ordinance may or might not give the average citizen a sense of what’s enclosed in that ordinance.”

When did City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer turn into a political hack?

   City Attorney Pfeiffer was a welcome breath of fresh air to city government when he first began service after his work on Environmental Court. Residents were impressed by his open demeanor, energy, attendance at neighborhood events, hands-on working style and the fact that he answered his own phone. While he still answers his own phone and talks a mile a minute with enthusiasm, Pfeiffer has been at the center of a number of controversies impacting citizen circulated petitions and supporting the City Council’s ongoing efforts to suppress the rights of citizens. Whether it is signing off on the Redflex contract process at Ginther’s request or denying citizen petitions, Pfeiffer is increasingly looking like Flavor Flav, jumping around shouting “yeah, boyeee” in encouraging the schemes Ginther is promoting.
   With the City Council Reform petition, Pfeiffer adopted an incredibly narrow reading of the single-subject rule of the charter. While admitting in a May 21 memo that the courts will find the single subject rule violated for “only a manifestly gross and fraudulent ” violation, he advised counsel that city council districts and financing of city council campaigns violated the single subject rule and the petitions were thus unlawful.
   He seems to have neglected to read and relay the text of the court’s decisions on single-subject rules. In Dix vs. Celeste, the court wrote:

“It must be strongly emphasized that the constitutional mandate that every bill shall have but one subject was imposed to facilitate orderly legislative procedure,notto hamper or impede it. Professor Sutherland has so recognized, stating in his treatise, supra,at page 2, as follows: "* * * [This rule] was not designed as a loophole of escape from, or a means for the destruction of legitimate enactments. The number of statutes required to effect a given purpose is not to be needlessly multiplied, nor is the scope of the required single subject to be unduly restricted..."

   Yet in noting Council districts and fair elections provisions requiring public funding of campaigns and use of public access television for candidates, Pfeiffer proposed that the City Council Reform Amendment was at least two and possibly three, different ordinances. The courts continue,

“…This holding strikes the proper balance. It recognizes the necessity of giving the General Assembly great latitude in enacting comprehensive legislation by not construing the one-subject provision so as to unnecessarily restrict the scope and operation of laws, or to multiply their number excessively, or to prevent legislation from embracing in one act all matters properly connected with one general subject. It further recognizes that there are rational and practical reasons for the combination of topics on certain subjects. It acknowledges that the combination of provisions on a large number of topics, as long as they are germane to a single subject, may not be for purposes of logrolling but for the purposes of bringing greater order and cohesion to the law or of coordinating an improvement of the law's substance. “

   In Hoover vs. Franklin County Commissioners, the court wrote

 “As we emphasized in Dix, every presumption in favor of the enactment's validity should be indulged. The mere fact that a bill embraces more than one topic is not fatal, as long as a common purpose or relationship exists between the topics.”

   In a July 21st memo Pfeiffer refers to a different law regarding single subject, but left out the court’s reasoning in that case (Willke v. Taft) that says :

{¶ 37} "`All that is required is that the act should not include legislation so incongruous that it could not, by any fair intendment, be considered germane to one general subject. The subject may be as comprehensive as the legislature chooses to make it, provided it constitutes, in the constitutional sense, a single subject, and not several. The connection or relationship of several matters, such as will render them germane to one subject and to each other, can be of various kinds, as, for example, of means to ends, of different subdivisions of the same subject, or that all are designed for the same purpose, or that both are designated by the same term. Neither is it necessary that the connection or relationship should be logical; it is enough that the matters are connected with and related to a single subject, in popular signification.'"New Jersey Assn. on Corr. v. Lan(1979), 80 N.J. 199, 215, 403 A.2d 437,quoting Johnson v. Harrison(1891), 47 Minn. 575, 578, 50 N.W. 923.

   Pfeiffer has taken the position that citizens cannot reform City Council to include matters properly related to Council: the size and composition of Council, who council members represent, how they are elected, and expanding how those elections can be financed. Ginther has developed his legal analysis in a way that pre-determined a conclusion that this issue will not get on the ballot, seemingly ignoring that the court’s reasoning makes his single subject analysis laughably wrongheaded to those who read it. By inserting his views into the process of getting on the ballot, Pfeiffer serves as chief enabler of the Ginther council’s efforts to suppress citizen input into our governance. “Yeah boyeee!!!”
   With the Columbus Community Bill of Rights, Pfeiffer and his office retreated from their election time position that initiatives currently being circulated would not have to comply with petition form requirements adopted after circulation started. Carolyn Harding of the Bill of Rights group was stunned by the blatant about-face, which would have disqualified their petitions even if they had enough signatures. Cox, of the City Attorney’s Office and Clark of City Council both had confirmed the grandfathering by in a letter to Pfeiffer, Greg Pace wrote “There are conditions that we understood were basically set in stone from the point of where we began, so I do not understand how we would be required to change without dropping our campaign in the middle.”
   In a July 31 meeting to plan next steps after Council’s action, Harding lamented “Here you are with Rick Pfeiffer blatantly disregarding the state process and you don’t have any disagreements on council…they are like good, obedient little people.” Pace, of the Bill of Rights, added he will be leading a group to examine the Board of Elections signature review. He believes Council’s actions in supporting the City Attorney’s position make the whole process seem “illegitimate,” and draws distrust to the Council, City Attorney and Franklin County Board of Elections. Harding said, “They are clearly trying to marginalize citizens -- this is about us, it is our government, and they are trying to take it away.”

Council eliminates public campaign funding – continues to access to campaign bribe money

   Harding’s position is reflected in Council ordinance 2030-2015, which Council passed the same night it turned away the citizen initiatives. While the Coalition says “these are our elections, and we should pay for them so the Council will serve us, instead of their corporate masters,” and had proposed public funding of city campaigns using state taxes on Ohio’s casino as a funding source, Council was busy protecting its corporate masters from the threat of public funding of campaigns by establishing prohibited uses of public funds, so they cannot be used to:

“(1) Benefit, whether directly or indirectly, a campaign committee, campaign fund, candidate, legislative campaign fund, political action committee, political committee, political party, or separate segregated fund;

(2) Promote or conduct illegal discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, family or military status, or any other status that is protected by federal, state, or local law or ordinance;

(3) Publish, distribute, or otherwise communicate defamatory or libelous matter; or

(4) Expressly advocate for the nomination, election, or defeat of a candidate for public office or the passage or defeat of a municipal ballot issue.”


   In passing this ordinance, Council appears to be pre-empting resubmission of the citizen initiative twice proposed by the Coalition and rejected by council prior to the ballot by Council and the Board of Elections, which would have created a Fair Campaigns Fund, available to any council candidate for their election campaign. Because the City Attorney now has the ability to determine legal sufficiency “based upon any applicable local, state or federal laws, rules or regulations,” as the council now has approved a local law prohibiting public funding of campaigns, the City Attorney and Council put themselves in the position to reject a citizen petition for legal insufficiency and force citizens to have to sue for ballot access. Ginther has raised more than 70 percent of the money for council incumbents the last two election cycles, funding as much as 90 percent of a member’s campaign, through corporate donations from local developers and national corporations receiving city business and largess like Redflex and Nationwide. Apparently he seeks to retain the leverage he has over the “good, obedient little people” on council seeking to pre-empt a citizen initiative that might clip his wings is undemocratic Ginther and his side man hype man Pfeiffer at their autocratic best.


Girls and boys gone wild!


Is all of Council “on the take?”– OSU Championship game tickets ad Ginther gifts from Nationwide after City Bailout of Arena


   So why the desire to prohibit public funding of campaigns – often called “clean campaigns” by Democrats and progressives? Why is the all-democrat Columbus City Council sounding more like Koch Brother Republicans in support of unlimited corporate funding of campaigns? Is it because council members won’t get corporate perks if they don’t take corporate money to do corporate bidding?
   Just beyond the Redflex bribery scandal enveloping Ginther, Councilmembers Eileen Paley, Shannon Harding and Michelle Mills were exposed by The Dispatch on July 31 for not paying for their trips, meals and tickets to the OSU Big Ten Championship Football game in Indianapolis, coordinated by Redflex lobbyist John Raphael, until after the Redflex bribery scandal broke. Ginther went on the lobbyist-coordinated trip as well, but his campaign fund paid the $250 for the trip within a month of the trip.
   Still unexplained, however, is why Ginther’s 2012 Financial Disclosure Statement, filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission, lists gifts from Nationwide Realty Investors and Nationwide Children’s Foundation. These were the first Nationwide gifts to Ginther as disclosed on his prior Ethics form filings, and came less than a year after Ginther led council to pass the $250 million bailout and public purchase of Nationwide Arena (Ordinance No. 1598-2011, October 3, 2011).
   This bailout came after voters had rejected public financing for a professional ice hockey arena…could this be the same type of “success fee” that Raphael charged to Redflex for the Columbus red light camera contract? In any case, it looks suspicious that a public official who violated the voters’ will in providing a hundreds of million dollar public benefit to a private company then receives – for the first time – two gifts of unspecified value from affiliates of that company.
   Willis Brown, a Coalition committee member and Commissioner of the Near East Area Commission says “Columbus City Council is corrupt. We’ve been saying it for a long time, and now the public is finally starting to see it. Citizens have to step up and take control of our government, or we will continue to be used and abused. The Coalition is not stopping our effort for a more accountable form of government – seeing the corruption in these two petition drives has drawn more people to us and has made us more committed than ever. We are re-tooling now – we have learned from the past that we cannot expect fair play from the City, and we are committed to a crushing victory over a government that is not a neutral facilitator, but has chosen to be an opponent.”