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?