One of the traffic cameras in Maple Heights, OH.

Traffic Camera Petition Hits Speed Bump

The good news (at least for those who would like a say on whether or not there are traffic cameras in the City of Maple Heights) is that the Board of Elections has certified the signatures on the petition and verified that 722 are valid.

Maple Heights Law Director Says 722 Signatures not Enough

The City of Maple Heights Law Director has advised that in order for electors to place an amendment to the Charter on the ballot the petitioners needed 10% of the total registered voters or 1,623 signatures (Article XX). Therefore, Mr. Montello, states that the petition will be treated as an initiative petition for an ordinance.

An initiative for a new city ordinance requires 15% of the votes cast in the last General Municipal Election, or 527 (Article XIII). The process outlined in Article XIII takes months, effectively stopping this issue from making it on the ballot in November.

Did the Petitioners Get it Wrong?

Maybe there is more to it. Let’s take a look at Article XX of the City Charter for ourselves:

 Amendments to this Charter may be submitted to the electors of the Municipality by vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the members of the Council; or upon petition signed by ten (10) percent of the electors of the Municipality, setting forth any such proposed amendment, submitted by the Council. The submission of any proposed amendment to the electors shall be governed by the requirements of the Constitution of Ohio, and, to such extent as said Constitution shall fail to provide therefor, the Council shall determine the manner for such submission. 

“What does “10% of the electors” that mean? Is that 10% of registered voters or 10% of those who voted in the past election? Mr. Montello, Law Director for the City of Maple Heights, says it is the former. However, Ohio case law seems to set the latter as the precedent.

Last week, Councilman Brownlee sent an email to the Law Director and Council stating his view that the petitioners only needed signatures equal to 10% of the total number of voters in the last election to have an Amendment to the Charter placed on the ballot.

I have looked into the process for a Charter Amendment Petition. The Ohio Secretary of State published a resource entitled 2013 Ohio Ballot Questions and Issues Handbook . Chapter 6 of the Handbook describes municipal initiatives. On page 6-5, it discusses the “Charter amendment initiative”:

The procedure to amend a municipal charter is set forth in the Ohio Constitution. The question of whether to amend a charter may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of the municipal legislative body or by petition. A petition proposing a charter amendment requires the signatures of  10 percent of the electors of the municipality, based upon the total number of votes cast at the most recent general municipal election.

The Ohio Constitution, Article 18, Section 9 outlines “10 percent of the electors of the municipality.” “Based upon the total number of the votes cast in the most recent general municipal election” comes from an interpretation of the Ohio Constitution in the decision in State ex rel. Huebner v. West Jefferson Village Council (1996).

In Huebner, the Council was in much the same position in which we find ourselves. They were sued for refusing to place the requested charter amendment on the ballot. The Council, among other things, claimed that the number of signatures necessary was 10 percent of all electors in the village as outlined in their local charter.

However, the court ruled against the Council, stating that the Ohio Constitution overrules the local charter. They ruled that the signatures were sufficient and required the Village to place the issue on the ballot.

The Huebner case sounds almost identical to the current situation in Maple Heights. Nevertheless, the City’s Law Director has chosen to look the other way

In all likelihood, the petitioners’ lawyer is now building a lawsuit on that decision.

“Let the People Decide”

Time and time again councilpersons have said “let the people decide” on issues such as tax levies and the composition of City Council. But now the Law Director is advising them not to give the people the chance. What will they do?

Council has until September 5th to introduce legislation placing the charter amendment on the ballot. Will they give the people a chance to decide? What do you think?

10 Responses to Traffic Camera Petition Hits Speed Bump

  1. Helen August 26, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Saw the cameras in Parma Heights yesterday. How are they doing with them?

    • Lynde Brownlee August 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

      Haven’t been following Parma Heights’ Speed & Redlight Cameras.. but they have some information on their City’s website… looks like they have a $200 fine for speeding. $100 for running a red light, no discount if you are caught doing both.

  2. James C. Walker August 28, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    It is normal, but despicable, for the for-profit camera companies and officials in their for-profit city business partners to try to block public votes on red light or speed cameras. They often use every dirty trick in the book to block actual votes because it is almost certain the cameras will be voted out and the profitable stream of money grab loot will stop. Ticket cameras have lost 28 of 31 votes so far, often by wide margins. Once citizens realize the true money grab purpose for red light and speed cameras, they almost always vote NO when allowed to do so.

    It is truly despicable for Maple Heights officials to try to block the vote. The voters should vote out every camera supporter in the local government and elect some new officials that respect the will of their constituents.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  3. Tarah August 30, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    The cameras were put up legally after council unanimously passed legislation approving the speed cameras. The law director (an appointed, not elected position) reviews legislation to ensure that it adheres to the highest standards of legal and professional ethics. The same standard is applied to interpreting the charter regarding the petition.
    Also, other news sources reported that not all 1600+ signatures were valid.
    It would be interesting to see how many of the petitioners are current and up to date on their property and income tax, and how many contribute to the over 20% of unpaid taxes (and $2 mil deficit!)?
    A simple solution for drivers is to not excessively speed, and they will not receive the unwanted ticket.

    • Joe P September 9, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      These tickets are going out to people who are not speeding. The city has no right to refuse this issue to be place on the ballot. To act otherwise is dictatorship, pure and simple.

      • Tarah September 18, 2014 at 11:24 am #

        If my congressional rep votes for issues I am against, my solution is not to vote for them again. Since 7 of 7 council members, who are the voice and representation of their constituents, unanimously voted in favor of the traffic camera legislation, it is not a dictatorship. It is unpopular among those who speed in the city and are at risk for a ticket.

        • Lynde Brownlee September 18, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

          I don’t think council voting to for the cameras and refusing to place the cameras on the ballot are the same issue.

        • eugene September 20, 2014 at 8:42 am #

          if in fact this was such a safety issue then they should give points on a drivers license like they do with other moving violations. (But for sure the voters would turn that down.) This was done all wrong and we wasted more money by going to the courts to find out the city is incompetent again to handle money or issues. I will be voting against most all of them next election for them. The state should take over our mayor, police chief, and law director are only trying to make money off the people of maple hts. been here 39 years I pay my taxes and see it all going down hill.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Camera Charter Amendment Sent to Committee of the Whole | Maple Heights News - September 4, 2014

    […] More information about the two views of how the charter amendment petition works can be found in our article Traffic Camera Petition Hits Speed Bump. […]

  2. Maple Heights to Vote on Traffic Cameras at November 4, 2014 Election, After All | Maple Heights News - September 19, 2014

    […] More of Councilman Brownlee’s letter can be found in Traffic Camera Hits Speed Bump. […]

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