9/18/2014Ohio Supreme Court Briefed On Anti-Camera Referendum
Petition circulators ask Ohio Supreme Court to force Maple Heights to let citizens vote on banning automated ticketing machines.
It will be up to the seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court to decide whether the city of Maple Heights and its traffic camera vendor may deny residents their right to vote on the use of red light cameras and speed cameras. The court's decision will have sweeping ramifications in a state where residents in seven cities -- Ashtabula, Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Heath, Garfield Heights, South Euclid and Steubenville -- have already used initiatives to prohibit automated ticketing. Instead of fighting, Cleveland's city council placed an identical camera ban measure on the November ballot.
On Wednesday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections told the court that October 6 is the absolute final day the referendum could be placed on the ballot. Justice Terrence O'Donnell also recused himself from the case.
After being presented last month with verified signatures to put the camera ban on the ballot, the Maple Heights City Council refused to put the charter amendment on the ballot, as required by law. The city's law director, John J. Montello urged this action, saying the city could not afford to lose the cameras.
"As discussed at the numerous budget hearings, the photo monitoring devices are an integral part of our recovery plan submitted to the state for approval," Montello wrote in a memo to the council. "Federal, state and county cuts have crippled the city in addition to the real estate market crash... The mayor and council have decided what is in the best interest of its citizens."
Montello insists that the city charter requires ten percent of registered voters sign the petition, not ten percent of those participating in the last election. Attorneys Curt C. Hartman and Christopher P. Finney countered that the Ohio Constitution overrides the charter, citing several state Supreme Court cases establishing that "ten percent of the number of votes cast at the last preceding general municipal election" is the correct standard, which was met in Maple Heights. Hartman and Finney asked the high court to force the item onto the ballot.
"When, as in the present case, a city council is timely presented with an initiative petition proposing a charter amendment that contains a sufficient number of valid signatures, this court has repeatedly issued writs of mandamus to compel the placement of the proposed charter amendment on the ballot at the next regular election," Hartman and Finney wrote. "In so holding, this court adhered to the principle that municipal charters may not be construed so as to overrule rights guaranteed to the citizens of Ohio by the Ohio Constitution."