By Linda Dillman
Proposed city charter changes could find Canal Winchester City Council members on opposite sides of the issue when it comes to addressing candidates who receive a political party endorsement during election campaigns.
The Charter Review Committee voted 9-2 to recommend that language prohibiting any mayoral or council candidate from seeking, accepting, publishing, or communicating an endorsement be added to the city charter.
The committee’s recommendations were forwarded to council on Nov. 13. Council has the option to accept, reject, modify or create their own changes before placing them on the ballot for voter approval.
While the charter review process takes place every 10 years, the committee also proposed cutting that time frame in half.
“I see where this has an appeal,” said Councilman Bob Clark regarding the endorsement prohibition, “but we have the U.S. Constitution’s Article One Freedom of Speech and this (proposed change) violates Article One.”
Clark said he was unaware of any municipality that has similar legislation in the state and felt if council forwarded the change to the ballot, and it was approved by voters, it could set the city up for a lawsuit. During the fall 2020 election season, Clark’s name and photo, along with Mike Walker and Chuck Milliken appeared on a Republican campaign mailer endorsing candidates.
“All higher courts have upheld it as a violation of the First Amendment,” said Clark. “I’d be happy to go to the attorney general’s office and get a ruling. This had to come up somewhere else.”
Councilwoman Jill Amos said she was on board with the charter committee’s recommendation and felt there was no need for political endorsements in a non-partisan council race. While she told Clark she understood what he was saying from a legal aspect, she felt the community was vocal in their disapproval of what took place during the election.
“I’m listening to the community that voted and they don’t like what happened,” said Amos. “There was so much controversy.”
Walker agreed with Clark’s opinion that the charter change could invite litigation and, if there is any possibility of the city being sued, he asked why council would set themselves up for a potential lawsuit.
“It’s freedom of speech and why would we deny that?” questioned Walker.
Before Chairman Mike Coolman brought the charter discussion to an end on March 15,
Councilman Will Bennett said it would be difficult to adjudicate the issue and had no idea if there was a way to actually do so.
Bennett said while the idea may be more of a case of the spirit of the law, he wondered if council really wanted to have the endorsement prohibition as part of the charter.
Council did not discuss candidate endorsements from other entities.