Local ballot issues lack clear, adequate language
Monday, Aug. 9, 2010
Following is a statement by the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus, prepared by Ann Henkener for today's meeting of the Franklin County Board of Elections.
A primary mission of the League of Women Voters is to encourage informed and active participation in government. To that end, we publish a Voter Information Bulletin prior to every general election that, in addition to candidate information, includes an explanation and pro/con statements about major ballot issues. We hope all voters have an opportunity to read the VIB, but we understand that not all voters do, so the information printed on the ballot is important in assisting many voters in making a decision on how to vote.
We are concerned about the adequacy and clarity of the information provided on the ballot for the proposal by the City of Columbus to amend its charter to include the ability to discuss certain issues in an executive or closed session. When first reading the ballot language, I inferred that the proposal guaranteed that meetings of city council and its committees would be open to the public. However, in looking further, the purpose is to amend a charter provision requiring that all council meetings and all committee meetings be open to the public, and to grant a limited number of exceptions that would permit discussion of certain issues to be conducted in executive session, which is a closed meeting.
The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus is not taking a position on the merits of this proposal at this time. However, in order for voters to be informed about the effect of a “yes” vote or a “no” vote, at a minimum they need to understand that meetings which have been uniformly open to the public may now be closed to the public for discussions of certain limited topics.
One better way of informing the public would be to have ballot language stating:
“Shall Section 8 of the Charter of the City of Columbus requiring that meetings of the council or its committees be held in public be amended to permit council or its committees to convene in closed session when discussing issues such as personnel matters, purchase of property, litigation, collective bargaining, and security arrangements in the same manner as the general laws of Ohio pertaining to open meetings of public bodies?”
We are also concerned about the ballot language proposed by the Columbus Metropolitan Library. We are not challenging its technical accuracy, but are concerned about the impression it leaves. The language indicates there is a 2.2 mill replacement levy and an additional new .6 mill levy. Without an understanding of the significance of the words “replacement levy” and an understanding of the intricacies of how millage is applied in Ohio, voters might believe their taxes will go up about 20 to 25 percent (.6 divided by 2.2 = 27 percent) In actuality the increase will be three to four times the current tax. The 2.2 mills is being collected at an effective rate of .75 mills so the current dollars collected under the current 2.2 mill levy can’t be assumed to be the same dollars collected under the “replacement” levy, which will be collected at the full 2.2 mill rate. A better way of informing the public would be to affirmatively state that the current levy being replaced is only being collected at a rate of .75 mills while the new levy can be collected at the full 2.2 mills plus the .6 mill increase.
Trust between the voting public and their elected representatives is eroding. Ballot language that more clearly informs the voting public about the issues can go some distance toward rebuilding that trust.