Cleveland Council Clerk Rejects Lead Paint Petitions; Court Fight Possible
The clerk of Cleveland City Council on Friday rejected petitions seeking to create a new program protecting tenants from lead paint. In response, the organizers of the petition drive say they’ll go to court to force the clerk to introduce the measure to council.
Clerk Patricia Britt wrote in a letter to Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) that their petitions lacked a sentence warning that election falsification is a felony.
Ohio law says that petitions must include boldface, all-capital-letter notices cautioning, “WHOEVER COMMITS ELECTION FALSIFICATION IS GUILTY OF A FELONY OF THE FIFTH DEGREE.”
The petition papers do include a warning about possible prosecution for those who sign twice, sign someone else’s name or sign while not a legal voter, as laid out in one part of state law. But the papers do not include the all-caps notice.
“Election statutes are mandatory and must be strictly complied with,” Britt wrote. “Even though the Initiative Petition contained a sufficient number of signatures, the fact that it does not contain the statutorily required language causes it to be invalid as a matter of law.”
Jeff Johnson, a CLASH organizer and former Cleveland city councilman and mayoral candidate, provided this photo of a petition paper.
But CLASH argued that the missing warning shouldn’t stop Britt from submitting the lead paint ordinance to city council.
“We acknowledge that the language on the petition booklet does not meet the State’s requirement to eventually be placed on the November ballot,” the group said in a written statement released Friday afternoon. “That technicality, however, does not invalidate the petitions’ role in compelling the Clerk of the Council to certify the petitions, and submit the proposed ordinance to Council for review, as described in the charter.”
In February, CLASH launched its campaign to compel city council to take up the lead paint ordinance. The proposal requires landlords to certify that their properties are safe from lead.
On Wednesday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections verified that CLASH had turned in 6,530 valid signatures, more than the 5,000 required by Cleveland’s charter.
But in a letter to Britt, board director Anthony Perlatti wrote that “the Board has some concerns regarding the petitions,” citing Ohio law on the felony warning.
“While the issue of the validity of the signatures, and not the petitions, is that which is currently before the Board, we wanted to bring this potential issue to your attention,” Perlatti wrote.
Under Cleveland’s charter, citizens can submit legislation to city council by petition after gathering the signatures of 5,000 “qualified electors.”
Once the clerk determines there are enough valid signatures and certifies the petition, the measure goes before city council. If council votes it down or alters it, the petitioners can seek to put it on the ballot.
Earlier this year, Cleveland leaders announced an effort to address lead poisoning alongside hospitals, philathropic groups and other organizations.