Next week City of Columbus residents will go to the polls to vote on Issue 1. Unlike other elections that are coming up in the next few months, I’ll go to the polls on Tuesday with anticipation, not trepidation, to vote against a colossally bad idea.
Issue 1 would change the structure of Columbus’ City Council. Currently, the Council has seven members, all of whom are elected on an at-large basis by the city as a whole. Issue 1 would create a 13-member Council, 10 of whom would represent designated wards within the city, with the remaining three being at-large members. As the city grows, the number of wards could increase, and ultimately the Council could include as many as 25 members.
The proponents and opponents of the proposed changes have been debating the merits of Issue 1, and the Columbus Dispatch has come out against the issue. In a nutshell, supporters of Issue 1 argue that the current council format produces members who aren’t paying attention to the needs of particular neighborhoods, and a ward system — where neighborhoods would be electing a specific member — would inevitably change that. Opponents focus on the fact that the proposed ward boundaries haven’t been drawn yet, and the Dispatch argues that, while arguments could be made for restructuring the current approach to electing City Council because of concerns about corruption and cronyism, a ward system would balkanize the city.
I’m against Issue 1 for several reasons. First, I think a ward system is likely to increase corruption, not reduce it. That’s been the problem in many cities, where developers co-opt ward bosses to support pet projects in their wards in exchange for hefty campaign contributions. Second, an increase in the size of City Council inevitably would increase administrative costs and add new people to the local government payroll — all to perform the very same function that has been performed capably by a much smaller group.
Finally, I think the existing Council system has worked pretty darned well. Columbus has grown and prospered, and that’s due in part to the fact that City Council is focused on the city as a whole. For decades now, Columbus city government has largely operated by consensus and without the fractious discord that has affected other cities. I’m sure there are some neighborhoods that feel neglected in comparison to others, but the overall progress is undeniable. Run a Google search on Columbus and you’ll find lots of articles talking about what a great city it has become. Why change what has worked so well?