Columbus City Council on Monday authorized a controversial $87 million ballot initiative for vague and much-criticized “green energy” programs be placed before city voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, complying with an order by the Ohio Supreme Court. The council also approved creation of a new “assistant police chief” job classification rushed into existence by the Columbus Civil Service Commission starting late last year.
Council also voted to approve a program that would pay city residents $100 each for getting their COVID-19 vaccines, calling it an income-replacement program for those without paid time off to get vaccinated rather than an “incentive” to encourage more residents to be vaccinated. In a decision last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the city council had “abused its discretion” by following the legal advice of City Attorney Zack Klein’s office when it voted to reject a ballot petition initiative from ProEnergy Ohio LLC to place the matter before voters in the primary election.
More: Mystery surrounds group pushing Columbus on clean energy plan Klein’s office advised that the petition was deficient under the city charter because it did not include a title that sufficiently described its content, a determination the court found “problematic” because the title was more than 150 words long. City officials and environmental groups have called ProEnergy’s proposal a dangerous misuse of city funds by an outside group with no city oversight that could lead to police officers being laid off and other budget cuts.
That’s because if the measure is approved, its proponent, John Clarke of Columbus, intends to divert $87 million in city funds to what he says would be the promotion of four separate green initiatives, including $57 million to assist residents in purchasing electricity generated from wind, solar, fuel cell, geothermal or hydropower producers. The council officially created the new position of assistant police chief, a newly proposed classification that has already been offered to LaShanna Potts, a captain with the Detroit Police Department. The Dispatch reported last week that the city provided Potts with an “offer letter” for a five-year term that pays $199,742 a year for a “limited appointment” tied to new Police Chief Elain Bryant’s tenure.
Your stories live here. Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it. Create Account The council ordinance doesn’t clarify how many other assistant police chiefs Bryant may hire. The post would be above the level of “deputy chief,” previously the second-highest ranking officials in the police department below the police chief with rules that those positions must be filled from within the division ranks. Assistant chiefs, under the council’s ordinance, can be paid between $143,458 and $215,176 annually.
That’s above the range of deputy chiefs, who make between $123,698 and $185,494 annually, the proposed ordinance says. The assistant chief position would also qualify for up to $2,300 in longevity pay, the same amount as deputy chiefs. Assistant chiefs could receive up to 7.3 weeks of vacation a year, to be determined by the city’s Public Safety and Human Resources directors. The Dispatch reported in March that, despite Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther saying his administration’s plan to create the new police assistant chief position dated back to 2019, the first written records showing the city Civil Service Commission actually drafting that new job classification came less than two weeks after now-fired officer Adam Coy fatally shot Andre Hill on Dec. 22.
The records were obtained under the Ohio Public Records Act showed. Emails showed that the new assistant police chief post suddenly was on a fast-track, under an expedited review, even though the change could put civilians instead of officers near the top of the division’s leadership ladder and over police internal investigations into officer misdeeds. Documents showed that on Feb. 5, a Columbus police commander filed a grievance through the local Fraternal Order of Police, saying that Ginther’s decision to demote former Columbus police Chief Thomas Quinlan into the job of a deputy chief had violated the union contract, which states that deputy chief posts can be filled only by Columbus commanders who apply.
The final draft of the new jobs specifications, also dated Feb. 5, was emailed by Civil Service officials to the Public Safety Department with the message: “I will have a Special meeting on the calendar by the end of the day,” and the three-member Civil Service Commission held that meeting Feb. 17 and approved the new job classification. But the commission rules state assistant chiefs need not be sworn officers, or even have ever worked for a police department. The council also Monday unanimously approved funding for up to 2,750 city residents who apply to receive $100 payments if they get vaccinated for COVID-19 after Monday. City officials want to boost vaccination rates in the city’s poorest communities, where rates lag communities with higher incomes.
Last week, the council voted to repeal the city’s mask mandate, in line with state and federal moves, despite that only about 43% of city residents are vaccinated. “It is really important that the community understand that this is not an incentive program,” Council President Shannon Hardin said. Rather, Hardin said the purpose is to effectively reimburse people who don’t get paid time off to get vaccinated, and potentially have to miss more paid work recovering form the vaccine’s temporary flu-like side effects for some people.
“Some people in our community that work very demanding jobs, and actually are usually frontline workers who have been working through this entire pandemic, don’t have this paid time off,” Hardin said. However, the program has no income or work-related restrictions, and any city residents not yet vaccinated as of Monday are now eligible for the payments, first-come, first-served. Federal COVID-19 recovery funds totaling $275,000 will be made available for payments through Columbus Urban League and Catholic Social Services under the plan. firstname.lastname@example.org @ReporterBush