Columbus income-tax revenues to remain below 2019 through 2021.

The Columbus City Council is often on the side of giving government grants to private organizations. Monday, it was on the receiving end of a $500,000 private grant to help residents work through the process of sealing criminal records.

The grant from the Alliance for the American Dream, a competitive grant program founded by Schmidt Futures, will be used to fund “Opportunity Port,” an online portal that will provide applicants with access to legal expertise to guide them through the process of sealing certain records.

There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people just in Franklin County who potentially could qualify to have court cases sealed, “a process that we know is cumbersome to many in our community,” said Councilman Rob Dorans.

Currently, the process of sealing a court record typically involves setting up an in-person meeting with an attorney, filling out paperwork, reviewing the application for eligibility and mistakes, forwarding it to prosecutors for review, and ultimately going before a judge for a final decision.

The new online platform will streamline that, eliminating the in-person meeting, and automatically forwarding applications to attorneys for review, such as those the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, a nonprofit agency that provides legal assistance to economically disadvantaged people in central Ohio.

In 2019, City Council provided $130,000 to the Legal Aid Society to fund sealing court records of marijuana convictions, and also train other attorneys to help.

Dorans’ office applied for the funding in 2018, said Sara Rubin, vice president of development with Ohio State University. OSU is one of four universities working with Schmidt Futures. The venture capital fund focusing on public benefits was created by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and his wife, Wendy Schmidt.

Schmidt Futures had provided $75,000 in seed money before approving the $500,000 grant.

“Racists policies have resulted in vilification and over-surveillance of Black and brown communities,” Rubin said. “The consequences that stem from an encounter with criminal justice system exacerbate and perpetuate racial inequality.

“If you have a criminal record, employers will not hire you, landlords will not rent to you, and the government will not loan money to you for school. Employment, housing and education are the building blocks of success in America.”

The city hopes to have the new online platform up and running by as soon as this summer, Dorans said. He said he believes the council is prepared to add additional money toward the effort to ensure that the capacity exists to handle the expected surge in cases.

In other business, the council awarded a $3.7 million grant to the Greater Columbus Arts Council to be used to administer a variety of art and cultural programs and sub-grants. The money comes from the city’s Hotel/Motel Excise Tax Fund.

Also, council approved $7 million in income taxes to pay for annual debt service on bonds issued to purchase and rehabilitate the former downtown Lazarus Department Store, and another $1.85 million for debt-service on bonds for an underground city parking lot at COSI.

Council approved $250,000 for an “early warning system” designed to alert the Division of Police to patterns of officer behavior that could be indicative of future problems of misconduct unprofessional behavior. The “benchmarking tool’ also can be used to reinforce positive conduct, the city said.

The council also approved $205.7 million to pay for one year of insurance programs for city employees, including $191.8 million for health insurance through January 2022.

wbush@gannett.com

@ReporterBush

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