Using the citizen initiative provisions of the Columbus City Charter that allows citizens to propose legislation, the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (“the Coalition”) announced it will file signatures in support of a proposed law to reform political campaigns in Columbus on Thursday. “As progressive people, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, we recognize the pernicious influence of money in our political life. Because all politics is local and we think globally but act locally, we are addressing this issue in Columbus,” said Coalition committee member Denise Benning. “Governance should be about more than staying in power. True public servants will want to ensure we have a robust, competitive, and fair electoral system, and we are hopeful that the individual members of Columbus City Council can see past their short-term political goals and approve this ordinance based upon the good it provides to residents of Columbus, present and future,” said Willis Brown. “This will be a test of our priorities. Council approves casino tax money to fund a bailout of an entertainment venue -- Nationwide Arena. Now, citizens are asking for a small fraction of that amount, every other year, to be used to make more and better information available to voters, so we can have the best representation and the best governance possible. The Coalition believes that having a strong local democracy is worthy of some public investment,” said Denise Benning. “Over time, we have watched as elections have become more irrelevant. In the 2013 primary, about 4 percent of the Columbus electorate voted. We’ve got to get people to trust that elections matter – that their vote matters – and we’ve got to stop letting money and influence buy elected office,” said Suzanne Patzer. SEATTLE VOTERS APPROVE DISTRICT GOVERNANCE LEAVING COLUMBUS ALONE Seattle voters adopted Amendment 19 by a vote of 64percent to 36percent, moving Seattle from the out-dated all At Large City Council format, to a District led governance format. Seattle’s current city council consists of 9 members, all elected in city-wide elections (At Large). Voters supported the initiative led by citizen’s group Seattle Districts Now, to move toward a Council that will consist of 7 members elected from Council Districts, and 2 members elected At Large. With Austin’s similar vote last year to move from 7 members At Large to 10 members from Districts and one member At Large, the Seattle vote leaves Columbus as the only remaining big city that retains the outmoded At Large council format favored by big business and the power and social elite. Seattle Proposition 1 was a companion proposal to fund elections through property taxes. It failed 54percent to 46percent. In Columbus, the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government announced on Thursday, November 7th that they would be submitting signatures for a campaign finance reform law. In addition, the Coalition is collecting signatures for a proposal to move from a 7 member At Large council to an 11 member council with 4 members elected At Large and 7 members elected from Districts.

ELECTION RESULTS

Voters Overwhelmingly Reject Coleman’s Education Plan

In a stinging rebuke to Mayor Coleman and big business, voters rejected Coleman’s signature Columbus Education Plan proposal to increase Columbus City School property taxes by 24 percent. Despite spending over $2.4 million on a campaign with glossy mailers, non-stop radio ads and television commercials with cute kids, the Mayor’s Columbus Education Plan (Issue 50) was trounced by voters at the polls, losing with 69percent in opposition to 31percent in support (44,417 to 19,548). The companion issue, Issue 51 which would have created a new auditor position overseen by the City, also failed, losing 61percent to 39 percent. The ball of string started unraveling in September, a month after the pro levy forces started running commercials and sending glossy mailers. In a first for Columbus, organized opposition to the levy came from newly-formed citizens groups named “No Cheaters No Charters Columbus,” “It’s OKAY To Vote No,” and “Citizens Against Issues 50 and 51.” In a preliminary rebuke, the Columbus Council of PTA’s refused to endorse the levy, and one PTA member’s statement that the Columbus Education Commission did not listen to the people prompted an emotional Coleman to melt down and yell at a parent “I didn’t have to engage in this ever. I could have let it float off and then it would burn down.” Further, homeowners and landlords organized in objection to the increased tax on their properties. In his concession speech, Mayor Coleman said “it is clear to me that the District must continue to restore trust … while at the same time changing in the process. That is what the voters are saying.” Alex Fisher, CEO of The Columbus Partnership wrote “today, voters expressed a lack of trust in our school district … the voters are asking for reform before new taxes.” This public assignment of blame to the Board of Education is stunning, since this appears to be the first time the campaign mentioned the Board of Education in connection with the levy and because the community leaders had been stunningly quiet about the Board’s ineptitude prior to the election. While pro-levy leaders cast blame for the loss at the feet of the Board of Education (and certainly the Board deserves a share of blame), this was a campaign run by the Mayor’s Office and local business community, under the Mayor’s banner, with the Mayor’s plan, and with the Board of Education having no presence whatsoever, which was a deliberate part of the planned duplicity of the pro-levy campaign. So, although it was the Mayor’s plan and campaign, blame for its loss went immediately to the District.

Broad Spread Opposition

Opposition to the levy came from all quarters of Columbus and for many reasons. Observers remarked that putting Issue 50 on the ballot was a strategic blunder by the school board and the community’s power elite because there was something there for everybody to hate. Board of Education member Mike Wiles, who was not re-elected, had advocated that the issue be split into several separate issues; however, he was out-voted. Columbus City Schools parent Miriam Bowers Abbott from the Northwest side of Columbus objected to the lack of specifics in the Columbus Education Plan saying, “I won’t support a plan that simply sucks up more public money to fund vague platitudes. ‘Give us more money’ is not a plan.” Prior to the election, Gail Burkholder of the Near East Side said, “the Columbus Education Plan offers us the opportunity to pay the largest property tax increase in CCS history. The proceeds would fund non-union charter schools, a whole new level of bureaucracy and more. This is to be entrusted to a school board currently under state and federal investigation and a mayor’s office with no educational expertise.” Amy Harkins, mother of a 7th grader in Clintonville objected to Issue 51, saying, “I cannot support removing Carolyn Smith as internal auditor, the only person brave enough to speak out against the data manipulations happening in our district.” Parent Heather Rouse said “I urge you to look more carefully at the money spent per student…it varies greatly depending upon the school. For example, at Champion MS the district spends $21,000 per pupil. Champion MS is a new, state of the art building….at Ridgeview MS the district only spends $12,000 per pupil yet it is an older run down building, filled to the max with a wait list of students that wanted to lottery in….which school has a better performance index? Ridgeview is one of the highest rated middle schools in the district. I guess that proves that throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution!” Larry Spencer wrote to levy opponents No Cheaters No Charters Columbus, saying “according to the state impact website the only districts that spend more per student than CPS are Grandview & Upper Arlington. Grandview and Upper Arlington both earned A ratings. CPS earned an F. How do you justify asking for more money for CPS considering its already high per student cost. At this point it does seem to be about money but using resources more wisely i.e. reducing overhead, etc. It’s also hard for me to support this very large levy when schools such as Beechcroft and East High are well below 100 percent occupancy.”

Black Clergy Bucks the System

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the oldest alliance of historically Black churches, broke with the orthodoxy in advocating a “No” vote. Forming a group called Citizens Against Issues 50 and 51 and led in partnership by Elder Dale Snyder of Bethel AME Church; Pastor Frederick LaMarr of Family Missionary Baptist Church on the south side; and Rev. Joel L. King associate pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, this group of community-based ministers stated the proposed levy was too high and that it would be a burden on the poor and fixed income seniors. Further, the group noted the data rigging scandal, and the lack of accountability shown by Columbus City Schools and the Board of Education. In a written statement, the group called upon: “[School Board President] Perkins and the school board to direct Mr. Trafford to compile a comprehensive report to the public on behalf of the Board of Education about the data scrubbing and other misdeeds over the past decade. This report should detail exactly what went wrong, who was responsible, what the consequences were, and what has been put in place to ensure this breach of the public trust never happens again. Complete disclosure to the public is a necessary precondition before a return to the ballot once Issue 50 is rejected. We ask for Mayor Coleman to support our call for complete transparency from this scandal-plagued and corrupt school system, before he advocates for any more money from the citizens of Columbus.” Prior to the election, a representative of the Mayor’s Office had dismissed this group of Pastors as being “small churches,” and bragged “we just released a list of fifteen big churches that agree with us.” It appears as though those small church pastors understood the pulse of the community. In contrast, sources tell The Free Press that Pastor Timothy Clark, of big church First Church of God gave an endorsement of Issues 50 and 51 from the pulpit. According to sources who attend the church, while such a testimonial from the pastor would normally result in thunderous applause, sources say after he issued the endorsement you could hear a pin drop in the sanctuary. Attorney Byron Potts of Citizens Against Issues 50 and 51 said, “now it’s time for them to come back to the table and do reform properly. They must clean up – clean house -- before they come back asking for more money.” Maria Kozelek and Christina McMenemy, organizers of ItsOKAYtoVoteNO, wrote “The community has rejected The Columbus Plan. Now the real work begins. Community and parent activists defeated the Plan with less than $4,000. Can a cost-effective, smart, determined team of activists come up with better reforms plans for Columbus City Schools? Together, we can. It’s time for the community to create a plan for reform in Columbus City Schools. Parents for Real Education Reform in Columbus City Schools want to engage you to form the NEW Columbus Education Reform Plan.” No Big Surprises Here: Council Incumbents Roll to Easy Victories In an election that shocked absolutely nobody, the three Columbus City Council incumbents -- A. Troy Miller, Priscilla Tyson, and Eileen Paley -- were returned to office, continuing the string of victories by incumbent council members. It has been sixteen years since an incumbent lost an election, last happening when Republican Peggy Fisher lost to Democrat Maryellen O’Shaugnessey. The vote count for the incumbent winners was Tyson (47,500), Paley (43,603), Miller (42,704). The vote totals for the challengers were: Brian Bainbridge (24,460), Greg Lawson (26,139) and Nick Schneider (16,454). Under the City Charter adopted in 1914, the City of Columbus has nonpartisan elections for council, and party affiliations are not listed on the ballot. However, campaigns for council are clearly partisan in nature and the current council is 100percent Democrat, and has been since 2002. Campaign finance reports filed October 31st revealed that campaign financing continues to be a major issue for challengers, as Brian Bainbridge for Columbus reported raising $1,434.99, Friends of Greg Lawson reported raising $2,826.43, and the Nick Schneider Tyranny Prevention Fund raised $482.05. In contrast, Citizens for Priscilla Tyson raised $22,010.35 and also benefited from $58,901.58 of in-kind contributions from Friends of Ginther; A. Troy Miller for Columbus raised $7,110.74 and benefited from $58,751.58 from Friends of Ginther; and Paley for Columbus raised $12,159.30 and also benefited from $58,751.58 contributed in kind from Friends of Ginther. The major in-kind contributions from Friends for Ginther were for radio time and TV time, which the challengers did not have. The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government has announced it will be filing a proposed campaign finance reform law that would limit transfers of money between candidates. Denise Benning of the Coalition states, “quite frankly, we believe all candidates should carry their own water. There should never be any doubt in voters’ minds about whether a candidate is independent, or beholden to another council member due to the contributions that keep them in office.” Incumbent Auditor and City Attorney Returned to Office Unopposed City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer was returned to office by the voters, winning 65,385 votes. City Auditor Hugh Dorrian will also be returning for his 45th year in office, defeating the nominal opposition offered by newcomer Igor Ternovsky (63,432 to 8,093). Issues 1, 2, 3, and 4 Pass Columbus bond issues 1, 2, 3, and 4 were passed by the voters handily, and will allow for capital investments in public safety, parks and recreation, public service, and public utilities.

Environmental Court Judge Retained

Recently appointed Environmental Court judge Dan Hawkins was re-elected by the voters on Tuesday, defeating Frank Macke and James Adair, with each earning 60,147, 41,412, and 15,756 votes respectively.

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