Why are they so out of touch with the people?




Amazing. Seven hundred thousand dollars raised from corporate supporters. Heartfelt appeals by famous people and politicians. Adorable animals. Arguably the best zoo in America. All the necessary elements for a solid campaign. Supremely confidence of a win…

But the vast majority of voters just said no, a loser by 70 percent.

Mayor Michael Coleman and Columbus’ power brokers suffered their second major defeat at the polls May 6 when central Ohio voters rejected the zoo levy – echoing the 69 percent drubbing delivered last November by the voters on the Columbus City Schools levy.


What’s wrong with this picture?

The zoo levy’s PR folks trotted out legendary Director Emeritus Jack Hanna and held charming family-friendly events with cuddly zoo animals. Commercials beseeched voters with the needs of the zoo animals – a new hospital and improved habitat. Not to mention another zoo conveniently located downtown.

How could Franklin County citizens resist? The cost was only $44 a year per $100,000 in property value, an 110 percent increase. Perhaps Franklin County voters resented the fact that Delaware County voters weren’t paying any taxes for the zoo that is, of course, in their county.

Polls showed they favored the levy on others. Despite the fact that the Columbus zoo is located in Delaware County and the second zoo, The Wilds, is in Muskingum County, only the voters in Franklin County would be taxed in the new levy. Also, that it was a permanent levy that would never be revoked. Under the old renewable levy, the state paid 12.5 percent of the cost. Under the new permanent levy the state funds disappeared.

The formula should sound familiar.

Last year, city leaders including Coleman, City Council President Andy Ginther, and even OSU football coach Urban Meyer (who actually lives in Upper Arlington) thought Columbus taxpayers would buy into the school levy. Cute and cuddly children said the darnedest things about their educational futures. The then-president of the Columbus Educational Association predicted massive and dire deficits if the levy failed. Millions of dollars were thrown at TV commercials, radio spots and endless mailers.

Why did Columbus voters overwhelmingly oppose the aspirations of the downtown aristocracy? It is clear they weren’t keen on handing more money to a school system that was under investigation by the state auditor for data scrubbing and stealing No Child Left Behind funds. Nor did voters embrace the idea that the auditor’s position should be eliminated after she had helped break the scandal. Voters also learned that buried in the bipartisan levy backed by Republican Governor John Kasich, was a provision that took 10 percent of the levy money and gave it to private charter schools.

In retrospect, it seems politically absurd that in the middle of the largest criminal scandal in the Columbus school system’s history the elite would go to voters in a poor urban school district and demand a 24 percent increase in spending.

The unanswered question is why did they think it was a good idea?


Why are the elite so out of touch?

It is no secret that the elected downtown elite exist to do the bidding of the unelected downtown elite who don’t live in the city. The same downtown leaders keep asking for more tax money from people who are not happy with what they see going on in their local government.

The Nationwide Arena bailout was decided by Columbus City Council without public input after the voters had five times voted down public money to subsidize a new arena. Nationwide Insurance and four of the wealthiest families in central Ohio – Galbreath, Pizzuti, Crane and Wolfe – benefited from the quarter billion dollar bailout.

In 2011, for the first time in history, the Democratic Columbus City Council voted to close their meetings pertaining to personnel and legal matters. They cynically proclaimed their charter change was a triumph for open meetings. Now it is easier for the one-party monopoly to pick its new members behind closed doors. Every Council member and the Mayor started out as appointed City Council members. The voters haven’t elected a new member to Columbus City Council since the mid-90s.

Strange things happen downtown. Tens of billions in public funds built a downtown City Center mall in the early 90s and then the structure is declared obsolete and demolished to be replaced by an open green Commons. Suddenly, in front of the green Commons on the street are new condos, townhouses and apartments that are a developer’s delight.

Many voters spoke of their concerns that a third zoo downtown was designed to lure urban hipsters into the central city to buy up those condos or live in those apartments. Perhaps the people of Columbus are realizing our leaders do not always have the common good in mind.

Malls disappear, townhouses spring up, the Veterans Memorial building is slated for demolition, and there’s no real discussion at an unrepresentative City Council. Remember again how their rules operate. Citizens cannot discuss issues at Council meeting unless the issue will be voted on that night. Three minutes is set aside for only three people to speak, pro and con. That’s 18 minutes to discuss the quarter billion dollar wealthfare check to the families representing the one percent.

What would the $250,000,000.00 have done to revitalize the Near East side, South side or the West side of Columbus?


Who is Phil Pikelny?

The key figure that links the quarter billion dollar bailout for the richest families and the zoo levy is Dispatch executive Phillip Pikelny, Chairman of the Board of the Columbus Zoological Park Association. He pushed for the permanent levy. But just prior to that, he filed a complaint at the Franklin County Board of Elections against the progressive grassroots group Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (CCRG). The CCRG’s Dare2BFair campaign gathered more than enough signatures for an initiative that would have allowed Columbus citizens to repeal the Arena bailout.

The people who sign Pikelny’s checks, the Wolfe family, who own 93 percent of the all the print media in central Ohio including the Dispatch daily newspaper, received an estimated $25 million of taxpayer money from the Arena bailout. When the Dispatch executive speaks, election officials listen. The Franklin County Board of Elections officials ordered the CCRG initiative removed from the ballot.

So, after saving a quarter of a billion dollars for a multinational insurance company and four wealthy families including his employer, Pikelny then thought it would be a great idea for taxpayers in Franklin County to spend $65 million on a third zoo downtown. The new permanent levy would have raised $32.7 million a year, significantly more than the current $18.9 million zoo levy.



You can fight City Hall

The downtown elite raise and spend a staggering amount of money and use the cache of celebrities in the political, sports and entertainment fields to impose their will on the population – yet they keep losing. They underestimate the will of the people. The ability of these so-called “titans” to manipulate the democratic process to serve the interests of the few has failed with two straight crushing political defeats.

The unbeatable continue to get beaten. Will they start listening to the people again? It is one thing to beat back the agenda of the downtown elite but ultimately it is more important to campaign for initiatives that benefit all citizens.

Although CCRG’s successful signature petition drive was thwarted by high-priced attorneys and weak-willed public officials, grassroots campaigns continue and the ideas are worth fighting for. Here’s some recommendations on ways the elite can be more in touch with the voters:

∙ Restore open City Council proceedings, including discussion on personnel and legal matters

∙ Restore public speaking time at City Council meetings – allow more people to speak and people to speak on issues that are not on the agenda

∙ Restore adequate funding for the local nonprofit public access cable television and play actual programs on the channel

∙ Expand seats on Columbus City Council – instead of seven at-large members, expand to 11 members with four at-large and seven ward members representing different geographic areas of the city

∙ Repeal the Nationwide Arena bailout and use the funds to revitalize neglected neighborhoods on the South, East and West sides of the city.


The people are vetoing the agenda of the elite. Now it’s time to establish a democratic agenda.