Reynoldsburg Council split on ending partisan primaries

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A divided Reynoldsburg City Council has narrowed down the list of proposed revisions to the city charter, including one eliminating partisan primary elections.

Earlier this month, the Reynoldsburg Charter Review Commission presented council with several recommendations for changes to the city’s charter with the intent that council would weed them out before sending them forward to voters.

During the July 16 committee meetings, council indefinitely tabled three of the seven recommendations, leaving four to be voted on by council at the July 23 meeting.

Any proposed charter changes approved at the July 23 meeting will be sent to the Franklin County Board of Elections for inclusion on the November ballot.

Garnering the most attention was a measure that would eliminate partisan primary elections. Under the proposed amendment to the city charter, there would be no partisan primary. Instead, everyone – regardless of their party identification – would run in the spring primary.

The two top vote-getters in one-on-one races would then move on to face off in the general election. On the ballot, candidates would not have "R" or "D" next to their names, and independents would have to run in the primary instead of automatically being included in the general election.

The measure also includes language that would cancel the primary election if no primary election is necessary due to no candidates or issues on the ballot.

Reynoldsburg resident Tom Drabick, one of the Charter Review Commission members, encouraged council to support this measure.

"In all of Franklin County, there are only two municipalities that have partisan primaries – Hilliard and Reynoldsburg," he said, noting that commitment to public service is more important to voters than party affiliation. "The effectiveness of partisan politics at this level is not really important."

Drabick said the Charter Review Commission carefully considered what effect a non-partisan primary would have on the electorate. This measure, however, did not have unanimous support of the Charter Review Commission. It was sent on to council with a 3-2 vote.

"We felt it would be an incentive for more voters to participate in the election process," Drabick said. "If every registered voter in the city has the opportunity to vote for two of the four candidates, there would be greater participation."

Norm Brusk, a Reynoldsburg resident who also served on the Charter Review Commission, said it is possible for voters to change party affiliation to vote for a certain candidate in the primary, but noted it’s not likely to happen.

"Often times voters are just not able to vote in the key part of an election for one office," he said.

William Hills, president of council, disagreed.

"It’s easy to be what you want to be when you walk into a primary election. They just need to ask for the appropriate ballot," he said. "The next primary you can change your mind if that’s what you want to do."

Councilman Preston Stearns, one of two Democrats on council, said residents should be entitled to vote for the candidate they feel represents the city the best, regardless of party affiliation.

"When you go into the primary election to vote, you should go without any labels attached," he said. "This gives those people the opportunity to express their rights to vote for whomever they choose."

Councilman Doug Joseph pointed out, "If this is such a great idea, then why don’t we do it at the state and federal level?"

He noted that although Reynoldsburg has a partisan council, they work well together regardless of their party affiliations. In fact, Joseph said, council votes on issues unanimously most of the time.

"I just think it takes away from the people the right to know who is what," he said.

Brusk said comparing voting in Reynoldsburg to voting on issues at the state and federal level is not an accurate representation.

"We’re a small city," he said. "You’re comparing apples and oranges."

Councilman Mel Clemens injected, "It has nothing to do with apples or oranges. In fact, I think you’re all bananas … The primary election is for the Republicans and the Democrats."

Councilwoman Antoinette Newman said voters want to see party affiliation when they get to the polls. "People know whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat – that tells them a little something about you."

Stearns said council should respect the recommendation of the Charter Review Commission, which is comprised of members of the community.

"When the issue is coming from the commission it is coming from the citizens themselves," he said, suggesting council send it to the voters for their consideration. "Let them decide whether it’s going to be. To deny that is an injustice."

Council voted 4-3 to send the measure eliminating partisan primary elections to council for a second reading with recommendation for adoption on emergency, with Joseph, Newman and Clemens casting the dissenting votes.

In other charter news, council unanimously agreed to send the following charter revisions on to council for a second reading with recommendation for adoption on emergency:

•Allowing the president pro-tempore of council, who is serving as acting mayor, to approve or veto emergency legislation in the event a true emergency occurs in the absence of the mayor or the president of council. Joseph said he proposed this amendment because the current charter "could put the city at a great disadvantage." He acknowledged, "Most likely it will never happen."

•Clarifying language permitting the city attorney to have other employment during a term in office. City Attorney Jed Hood said this corrects a conflict between two sections of the charter. "This proposed amendment will remedy that situation," he said.

•Clarifying wording regarding ward boundaries and appointment to council, and ensuring that members of the commission are electors of the city.

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