Oct 29, 2021 - Politics

Issue 7: Mayor warns of "greatest scheme in city history"

Illustration of a wind turbine blowing money

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Columbus leaders are working to defeat an upcoming city ballot issue seeking to divert $87 million in taxpayer dollars to a shadowy green energy group.

Why it matters: Issue 7, if approved in next Tuesday's election, would cost the city around 10% of its annual general revenue fund, likely leading to significant budget cuts in public services.

How it works: The ballot issue would create a "Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund" to allocate $57 million in city funds toward electric bill subsidies for local residents.

  • It would also allocate $10 million apiece to three other funds for various clean energy initiatives, including minority business development.

Yes, but: The money would be solely controlled by petitioners with ProEnergy Ohio LLC, which worked to get Issue 7 on the ballot, and there are no specifics on how spending decisions would be made.

What they're saying: Mayor Andrew Ginther openly accuses Issue 7 proponents of trying to steal taxpayer money.

  • "It's the greatest scheme in city history," he tells Axios.
  • Council President Shannon Hardin is equally critical, telling us the effort is "a money grab."
  • "I think it's darn near criminal. I am shocked that it is legal."

The intrigue: City leaders are in the unusual position of fighting against a purported green energy cause, which they have done through a slew of press conferences, advertisements and interviews. They are joined in opposition by some civic and environmental activists.

  • In contrast to the city's vocal opposition, Issue 7 backers have not spoken publicly about Issue 7 throughout the election season.

The latest: Ginther says the city will consider taking legal action if the initiative passes.

  • "All options are on the table to protect the public from this scheme."

Flashback: Columbus City Council initially rejected the petition last year, but a subsequent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in favor of the petitioners led to Issue 7 being placed on the ballot.

Context: The group behind Issue 7 has attempted to enact this initiative numerous times over the past decade at both the state and local level, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Of note: John A. Clark Jr., who led the Issue 7 petition drive, was indicted on charges of election falsification and tampering with records related to his work on the campaign.

  • He is accused of giving false information on Issue 7 campaign finance reports. The case is still pending.
  • Like other news outlets, Axios was unable to reach Clark for comment.

💭 Tyler's thought bubble: I've reported on many ballot items, from the smallest township levies to statewide constitutional amendments.

  • Ballot organizers traditionally work very hard to get public support.
  • So it is surprising for Issue 7 backers to remain so quiet, especially when explicitly seeking to receive so much public funding.
  • Taxpayers who stand to foot the bill for this initiative deserve an open exchange of ideas. They didn't get it.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Columbus.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Columbus stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Columbus.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more