Green Energy group tries again for Columbus ballot initiative

The people behind the nebulous “green energy” program that would have taken millions of dollars from the city of Columbus if voters hadn’t shot it down in November will try again.

Documents have been filed with the Columbus City Council Clerk’s Office indicating that ProEnergy Ohio LLC intends to circulate petitions again to get a ballot before voters this fall. This time, the group wants a smaller amount — $42 million in city money — for spending it would control on the same vague green energy programs previously sought.

In last November’s general election, Columbus Issue 7, which reportedly generated $87 million in city money to fund ProEnergy Ohio’s loosely worded green energy programs, lost 86.6% to 13.4%, an unprecedented loss from a Columbus voting issue.

“Same scam, different day,” Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Tuesday when asked about this latest attempt.

Of the $42 million sought it hopes to secure this time around, the group says $22 million would go to an electricity subsidy program for Columbus residents, $10 million would go to a development of minority businesses. An Energy Conversation and Efficiency Fund and a Clean Energy Education and Training Fund would each receive $5 million.

According to the group’s documents, the $22 million for the electric grant program and the $10 million for the minority business development program would be deposited with a company called the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission LLC, and 10% of those funds would be used for administrative costs, including staff and advertisements.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office said it is reviewing the pre-traffic petition to see if it meets city charter requirements.

A City Charter Review Commission has been appointed to review the Columbus Charter, and will be consider changes to prevent such matters from being voted on again.

Ginther said he will speak with members of the commission, as well as state lawmakers, to seek changes in state law so groups trying to get rich can’t try. similar actions in other cities.

Almost all Columbus officials and candidates, as well as environmental groups, have condemned Number 7 as a potential scam.

Number 7 reached the November 2021 ballot after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the city abused its discretion in denying ProEnergy Ohio’s wording motion.

The group must collect at least 5,217 valid signatures to vote. This would meet the requirement of at least 5% of the number of voters who cast ballots in the November 2021 Columbus mayoral election, which was 104,344.

After the November election, the Franklin County Board of Elections told the Columbus City Council that ProEnergy Ohio failed to obtain the 4,935 valid signatures of registered Columbus voters needed for a vote that would have transferred $107 million. to green energy programs, although the group turned in 6,500 signatures in total.

John Clarke, a Near East Side resident, is again involved in this latest effort and is listed as the project’s lead coordinator on the red tape.

In December 2020, a The Franklin County Grand Jury indicted Clarke on four counts related to the conduct of the campaign, charging that in July and August 2019, Clarke “knowingly told lies” in a state campaign finance report as to source or amount contributions. The charges also said he altered campaign finance information previously filed.

Former Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien said investigators found that five people listed on the campaign finance report had in fact given nothing. One was listed as contributing $13,000, with the other four contributing $10,000 each.

Clarke’s trial is now scheduled for May 9 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. After a January 31 hearing, Judge Chris Brown denied Clark’s request for a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity.

Dispatch called and emailed Clarke on Tuesday, but received no comment. Attorneys Connie Gadell-Newton and Bob Fitrakis, who are also involved in the green energy effort, did not immediately respond to a call and email on Tuesday.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

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