10/22/2009Ohio Supreme Court Clears Anti-Speed Camera Referendum for Vote
Ohio Supreme Court shuts down last ditch effort by Chillicothe mayor to block public from voting on speed cameras.
Chillicothe, Ohio residents will retain the right to vote out speed cameras on November 3 thanks to a Ohio Supreme Court ruling yesterday. Fearing the public would shut down his signature program, Chillicothe Mayor Joseph Sulzer had asked the high court for an emergency injunction blocking the citizen-led initiative. Sulzer argued that this step was needed because the proposed initiative was unconstitutional and the city was denied a fair chance to argue against it before the Ross County Board of Elections (view Sulzer's court filing). The supreme court justices unanimously rejected his complaint.
"Chillicothe failed to act with the requisite diligence in asserting its claim for extraordinary relief in mandamus and prohibition," the court explained. "Instead, the city delayed filing its protest until 119 days after the signed initiative petition was filed with the city auditor and 56 days after the city auditor certified the initiative petition to the board of elections. Chillicothe delayed an additional 26 days after the board denied its protest and certified the initiative to the election ballot to file this action for extraordinary relief."
In previous election cases the court has thrown out challenges for delays as brief as nine days. The justices noted that the requirement that protests be timely is more than a mere formality because absentee ballots must be printed at least thirty-five days in advance of the election date. Sulzer's protest was filed just one day before that deadline, September 29. Hearing the merits of a challenge at such a late date would have prejudiced the other side's ability to prepare a compelling defense.
"Chillicothe has no legitimate excuse for its prolonged periods of delay in this case," the court concluded. "The city did not need to wait for certification of the petition to file its protest... Based on the foregoing, Chillicothe failed to exercise the diligence required of relators in election cases, and we deny the writs based on laches. By so holding, we need not address the city's claims."
Rebekah Valentich, head of Citizens Against Photo Enforcement (CAPE), expressed relief at the decision. CAPE volunteers gathered the required signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
"After reading the Supreme court ruling, I think that I can safely speak on behalf of every CAPE member who fought for the citizens of Chillicothe and their right to vote," Valentich told TheNewspaper. "Victory is sweet."
Valentich is confident the referendum will pass as voters have never approved the use of cameras in a public vote. CAPE members want to take the issue a step further and boot the city council members responsible for putting the program in place. At-large Councilman Dustin Proehl is the only incumbent who voted against cameras and, as a result, enjoys CAPE support.
The rest of the council, save for the sixth ward seat, is being challenged by opponents of automated ticketing machines. Valentich herself is running for the second ward seat. The other challengers include Beth Neal, who is running in the first ward, Dan Evans in the third ward, Larry Depew in the fourth ward, Jeremy Siberell in the fifth ward and Bruce Arnold, who is running for council president.