By Dedra Cordle
The city of Columbus’s largest area commission has chosen not to participate in an initiative that aims to create a uniform election date for neighborhood advisory boards.
The Greater Hilltop Area Commission voted down a motion at its meeting on March 7 that would have allowed the board to schedule future election dates on the last Saturday of August. That is the date the city would prefer all area commission elections be held.
The decision to decline the city’s request to participate in city-wide elections was not unanimous – five commissioners voted in favor of the motion.
The commissioners who voted against the motion to change the date of their election offered a variety of different reasons for coming to their determination.
For commissioner Leah Brudno, she said she voted against the motion because she felt that the city had to do more to address the issues that arose last year during the launch of the city-wide election pilot program. She said that based on feedback she received from the 11 area commissions who participated in the 2022 pilot program, they were dissatisfied with what they deemed the city’s lack of communication and the narrow window that date allowed to recruit new members and canvass for votes.
“Essentially, the biggest qualms the commissions had was a lack of communication and a lack of time for folks after they had submitted petitions to actually campaign,” she said. “It was a very quick timeline last year and there were a lot of feelings that the city did not live up to the promises that were made for the commissions to participate in the pilot program.”
Brudno said that some of those issues could have been related to the newness of the city-wide voting program but added that she would like for the Hilltop commission to wait another year to see how the city addresses those issues before voting to participate in a uniform election system.
Commissioner Jennie Keplar said she voted against the motion because she felt that by participating in the city-wide election, the commission would be losing some of its autonomy.
“One of the important things to remember about why this commission was established was so that we could speak for the community at city council, not as a representative of the city to the Hilltop (residents),” she said. “Sometimes I think – and it’s amazing that the city supports us – but sometimes I think the lines get blurred between us advocating for our neighborhood to the city versus us doing what the city wants us to do.”
Keplar also added that she does not believe the commission needs the city’s assistance with running their elections as it is a “pretty well-oiled machine” that gets a large amount of public interest and voter turnout on election day.
Among those who voted for the motion to participate in the city-wide election process was commissioner Josh Paxton.
Although he said he initially wanted to take the “wait and see approach” that Brudno suggested, he felt the commission would be better served by joining in order to help the city work through those issues that sprang up last year.
“If we continue to sit out then we can’t help them properly build a city-wide election,” he said.
Commission chair Dan Fagan agreed with this assessment, adding that he believed it would be a good opportunity to offer input on future elections with the city and share resources with other area commissions on how to boost their level of engagement from the community.
“I think if we are all working together, that is going to have a big impact,” he said.
With the motion to change their election to the last Saturday of August defeated for another year, the Greater Hilltop Area Commission is slated to hold its election in early October.