For Immediate Release April 17, 2019
Cleveland, OH -- Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) will go to court to seek a Writ of Mandamus to compel Cleveland City Council Clerk Pat Britt to certify the 6,530 signatures of registered voters who were among 10,365 citizens who signed the petitions for a new “Lead Safe” law. CLASH also will seek to have the court compel Clerk Britt, as the City Charter requires, to submit the CLASH proposed ordinance to City Council for review and a vote.
Lawyers Marc Dann and Donna Kolis of DannLaw Firm, legal counsel for CLASH, will oversee the preparation and the filing of the Writ of Mandamus by the first week in May.
CLASH believes the decision of the Clerk of Cleveland City Council to not certify the 6,530 valid registered voter signatures, as confirmed by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (BOE) on April 9th, and not to submit the proposed ordinance connected to the signatures to City Council on April 15th was a clear violation of the Cleveland City Charter. Focusing on the fact that CLASH did not have a 13 word statement on its petitions as required by state law Clerk Britt informed the organization on April 12 that despite her acknowledgment that there were enough valid signatures as required by the city charter the missing statement on the petitions caused her by state law to reject the petitions without certification and submission to City Council.
“We are going to court because our city charter encourages and supports actions by citizens to petition their government and to participate in their own governing’” said Jeff Johnson, CLASH
member and former Cleveland City Councilman. “10,365 citizens signed petitions to have a new lead safe law as the charter allows. We cannot stand by and allow a terrible decision by City Council take away a right given to the citizens by their own charter.”
The writ of Mandamus will ask the court to look at the Cleveland City Charter that states that the Clerk of the Council is required by Chapter 7, Section 51 of the Charter of the City of Cleveland to certify the petitions, based only on whether they contain the required number of qualified signatures: “The Clerk shall ascertain whether it is signed by the required number of qualified electors. Upon the completion of the Clerk’s examination the Clerk shall endorse upon the petition a certificate of the result thereof.”
Chapter 7, Section 54 then requires the Clerk to submit the ordinance to City Council: “When the certificate of the Clerk shows the petition to be sufficient, he shall submit the proposed ordinance to the Council at its next regular meeting and the Council shall at once read and refer the same to an appropriate committee”
Sadly, this is not the first time the City and Clerk Britt have overstepped their legal right and denied petitions from Cleveland residents. In the 2017 case State ex rel. Langhenry v. Britt, the Ohio State Supreme Court ruled against the City of Cleveland, and cited the same section of the Charter of the City of Cleveland, writing "When [a] petition is filed with the Clerk of the Council he shall determine the sufficiency thereof in the manner provided in this Charter for an initiative petition for an ordinance. In accordance with Section 51 of the Cleveland City Charter, the clerk shall determine whether the petition has been ‘signed by the required number of qualified electors.’”
CLASH has acknowledged that the language on the petition booklet does not meet the State requirement to eventually be placed on the November ballot. That technicality, however, does not remove the responsibility of the Clerk of the Council to certify the petitions, and submit the proposed ordinance to Council for review, as described in the charter. Upon receiving the proposal, Cleveland City Council is required to review the legislation for 90 days and vote on it regardless of whether or not the legislation is headed to the ballot.
CLASH is encouraged by the outpouring of community support for strong legislation to keep kids safe from lead poisoning since we submitted petitions on April 2. We thank the hundreds of volunteers who circulated petitions, thousands of people who signed, and many more than that who support our efforts for their time and support.