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Issue 7, proposal called a 'scam' by Columbus city leaders, fails

Had it passed, Issue 7 would have taken $87 million from the city's general fund.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus voters struck down a proposal that would have taken nearly $90 million from the city.

The proposal lost by more than 85% of the vote. All 549 precincts reported their votes late Tuesday night.

The measure, if it had passedwould have diverted $87 million from the city's general fund to a group called ProEnergy Ohio LLC. 

Petitioners behind Issue 7 said the money would have gone toward efforts to support "green energy" and minority-owned businesses.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, a week after calling the proposal a scam, doubled down on that Tuesday night.

"I'm just grateful to the people of Columbus. They did their homework, members of the press stepped up efforts to expose this for what it was: one of the biggest scams in the city's history," Ginther said.

Other city leaders, such as Columbus Council City President Shannon Hardin, also spoke out against the proposal last week.

“The backers of this dark money issue don’t want you to know what it really is or who they are,” said Hardin. “They use flowery language, talking about renewable energy, minority business.”

Ginther and others also criticized the group behind the effort for not being forthcoming or accessible.

Days leading up to the election, 10TV tried multiple times to reach the petitioners by phone or in person, without much success. Once finally in contact, they declined a request for a Zoom interview. 

10TV was provided a list of talking points from Connie Gadell-Newton, the attorney representing the petitioners. It laid out how the money would be divided and how it would be managed. 

The breakdown offered was: $10 million for the Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund; $10 million for Clean Energy Education and Training; $10 million for the Minority Business Clean Energy Development Fund; and $57 million for subsidies electric bills for customers who choose clean energy.

As for the accountability of these funds, the petitioners said the Columbus City Council would be the delegated authority for the $20 million in the first two funds. An entity yet to be selected would manage the rest, subject to a quarterly audit by the city auditor.

“They haven’t even talked to the community,” Mayor Ginther said last week. “You know, minority business development, and you haven’t even talked to the NAACP or the Columbus Urban League or minority business owners in our community? That’s a scam.”

As for the specifics of the money, the talking points had a list of uses, including lowering electric bills, buying energy-efficient appliances, clean energy jobs training, scholarships for students studying clean energy and grants to provide capital to minority-owned businesses in clean energy.

“This is coming from folks who won’t talk to you, who won’t talk to the public,” he told 10TV’s Brittany Bailey. “If all these things were true, why wouldn’t they have put this in the language of the initiative petition? Why wouldn’t they have put all these details – you know, I learned a long time ago to read the fine print. And, when you read the fine print, none of the things you’re talking about are spelled out for the voters. There’s nothing for them to hang their hat on. They have to take the word of people who are trying to take our money, who are going to profit from our money and are refusing to have any oversight or accountability and, quite honestly, have been completely out of the community conversation about this issue for months and literally are sending lawyers and talking points to you in the 11th hour. Unacceptable.”

The talking points refer to the petitioners, one who is now deceased, as minority business owners, retirees and a teacher. They also are either friends or family of John Clarke. It was made clear that Clarke, who is associated with ProEnergy, is the project manager for the initiative and does not serve in a campaign finance capacity.

That distinction is likely important because Clarke is currently facing felony charges of election falsification and tampering tied to the early stages of the campaign.

The petitioners were already planning for a possible defeat on Election Day. Last week, they filed a new petition with the city. This time, asking for $107 million.

When asked Tuesday night what he thought about it coming back, Ginther said the petitioners need to listen to the people of Columbus.

Click here for election results

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