While discussing this year’s General Election ballot, which includes amendments to the Columbus, Georgia Charter recommended by the Charter Review Commission, my friend Ed Wilson, a former broadcast journalist, talk show host, and assistant to two Columbus, Georgia mayors, told me the commission isn’t needed and hurts more than it helps. I thought what he said was so interesting that I asked him to put it in writing so I could pass it along to you. He gives three main reasons for his position.
By Ed Wilson
1.) The commission–like most committees–tends to justify its existence by proposing amendments, regardless of whether they are needed or not. The original charter has built-in methods for amending the charter. There are three, and all three have been used successfully to enact charter amendments without involvement of a Charter Review Commission.
2.) Columbus citizens tend to delay consideration of proposed amendments until the next Charter Review Commission, which could be as long as 9 years in the future. Existence of the commission thus retards consideration of amendment proposals that may have merit. I have heard such conversations in which a group develops a consensus on a charter issue and instead of trying to broaden the consensus, group members express the wish that their idea should be forwarded to the next Charter Review Commission. Thus the incentive to develop charter-related issues among the citizenry is dampened and sidetracked. Columbus Council is among the groups I have seen do this.
3.) The decennial commission by its existence slows the operation of democracy in Columbus by providing an easy shift of charter issues from the whole body politic to a committee that has yet to be formed. Any substantive charter amendment should be based on serious concerns that have a broad consensus of support in the community. Granted, the proposals of the commission are aired in public hearings and subjected to a vote of the citizens, but I contend that proposals generated by the commission still don’t get the thorough consideration that those that arise from felt needs in the community.
The Columbus Charter is modeled in some broad respects on the US Constitution, which is certainly not reviewed by a committee every ten years, and how thankful we should be for that! Instead, the Charter and the Constitution should be reviewed on a continuing basis, and only when proposed changes develop genuine, broad-based support should they be amended.