Too many lawyers in the kitchen are cooking up a confusing November vote on proposed changes to the city charter.
Twenty-five appointees -- including 15 attorneys -- worked for a year studying the historic document that serves as a constitution for the Columbus Consolidated Government. It was a bumpy year for the Charter Review Commission, and now it's up to voters to decide on their recommendations -- including a measure giving the mayor the right to fire certain city officials with the approval of Columbus Council.
The controversial city service fee was withdrawn, and the Georgia General Assembly will clean up grammatical problems in the 1971 document. Only in the interim, new disputes quietly arose after it appeared the ballot might become a reprint of "War and Peace."
The Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University routinely signs off on ballots around the state. After seeing drafts of the local ballot, officials feared that the "textual information" would create problems for voters and burden the touch-screen mechanism. In plain English, it was too long.
"The amount of text contained in the charter amendments can be placed on the ballots voted on by the voters of Muscogee County, but the length of the resulting ballot may create hardships for the voting public," Director Michael Barnes suggested in a letter to elections chief Nancy Boren.
Boren and City Attorney Clifton Fay passed on these observations to Commission Chairman John Shinkle, expressing concerns that the credibility of the vote could be in jeopardy. Officials talked about turning the proposals into yes or no decisions.
This is where dueling legal minds entered the fray. Fay offered streamlined language for the ballot and commission member Jorge Vega came back with rhetoric of his own. Vega recognized the need to keep the ballot "very general and not detailed," but suggested that could be accomplished with language that would "set forth the subject matter of each proposed amendment."
There was the threat of endless lines at polling places but also a fear that voters would ignore that important lower portion of the ballot. Ballots have now been approved. On Nov. 6 we elect a president. Three legislative posts are at stake along with local races for sheriff and district attorney.
Page 2 is also important. It includes two Constitutional Amendments, changes to the charter and lastly the almost-forgotten question about whether voters support retailers selling beer and wine on Sundays.
Explanatory handouts will be available at the polls if voters request them but people should do some homework before they get there. You can start by sitting down at a computer.
To view a sample ballot, visit www.columbusga.org
To read the existing charter and to examine the proposed changes, go to www.columbusga.org/charter-review.
To get even more confused, call a lawyer.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.