Shared from the 9/13/2016 The Columbus Dispatch eEdition

Good review panel is chosen

Group should call on municipal experts

Columbus City Council and Mayor Andrew J. Ginther last week named a capable panel to consider changes in the city’s legislative branch.

Among the outstanding choices are former Ohio Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley and attorneys Frederick E. Mills and John C. Rosen-berger — three Republicans experienced in resolving complicated legal and governmental matters. Mills serves on the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission and Rosenberger is president of the nonprofit Central Ohio Community Improvement Group, which works with the county land bank to rid neighborhoods of blighted properties.

Also aboard is a critic of the current council setup, Robert Vitale, editor of Outlook Magazine, and Stefanie L. Coe, an attorney and chairwoman of the Southwest Area Commission. She brings an interesting perspective about the council appointment process: Coe had been a frontrunner for a council seat — until political heavy-hitters intervened and pushed another.

Members are as young as 38 and as mature as 70. They live all across the city, and they have reputations as no-nonsense leaders, consensus builders and community activists. Frieda L. Gilyard works with the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, Lourdes Barrosa De Padilla is executive director of City Year Columbus, the Rev. Tyrone A. Lawes is a member of the Baptist Ministerial Alliance of Columbus and the Vicinity, and Keary McCarthy is president and CEO of the nonprofit policy think tank Innovation Ohio and former Ohio House minority chief of staff.

Now all they have to do is figure out how to reset the council to better serve the nation’s 15th-largest city — by an ambitious February deadline.

City voters last changed the council’s makeup, from wards to seven members elected citywide, a century ago when the town was 23 square miles. Today, the metropolis spans about 220 square miles and is home to more than 850,000 people.

Many would like to see changes, but what that change might look like depends on the participation of city residents. Panel members need to hear concerns and suggestions at upcoming community meetings. To that end, the group should seek out advice from people who have studied and are expert in the pros and cons of various forms of city government and representation. For example, Ohio’s universities should be a rich source of expertise.

The panel has no shortage of issues to explore, including whether it is cost-effective and beneficial to increase the size of council or create wards, and how to fill council vacancies. The council’s current game is to appoint like-minded Democrats, disenfranchising Republicans and dissident Democrats and breeding a culture in which influence-peddling and lobbyist-sponsored junkets went unquestioned at City Hall.

The mayor and current council also want the panel to consider whether council jobs should be made full-time, giving members a raise from $52,600 a year.

As a practical matter, council members work full time, so holding the office and piecing together a professional-level salary requires a flexible boss. This raises suspicions that nonprofits have hired council members to secure government grants. A full-time council would avoid some conflicts of interest, but it also would insulate members, because they wouldn’t get the normalizing interactions of a workplace.

Ginther and the council are to be commended for choosing a credible panel.

But even the best panel won’t satisfy Columbus residents if city leaders stall or neuter reforms. The responsibility for changes ultimately rests with them.

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