pushing amendment toward ballot
By Kevin Kelley
Published July 20, 2005
of Mayor Dennis Clough and incumbent council members plan to present
council Thursday evening with petitions for a charter amendment
which would reduce the city's property taxes from 8.7 mills to 5.9
mills. The petitions request the proposed amendment be placed on
the November ballot.
The action could set the stage for a new skirmish in a longstanding
battle the two sides have had over how many petition signatures
are required to place a proposed amendment on the ballot.
In a July 5 letter to Mary Levtzow, a supporter of the proposed
amendment and challenger for the Ward 4 seat, Law Director John
Wheeler stated the required number of signatures is 2,261. He based
this number on a letter from Gwendolyn Dillingham, deputy director
of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Dillingham's letter referred
to the Westlake City Charter, which requires the number of petition
signatures to be no less than 10 percent of registered electors
from the city's last regular municipal election.
According to Article IX, Section 2 of the city charter, which was
amended in May 2003, a proposed amendment may "be submitted to the
electors of the City by the Council when the Council receives a
petition setting forth any such proposed amendment signed by not
less than 10 percent of the registered electors as shown by those
registered and qualified to vote at the last regular municipal election."
But supporters of the proposed amendment say the state constitution
should be followed, which requires the number of signatures be 10
percent of the number who voted in the last general election. They
believe the city charter allows the 10 percent requirement to be
applied to the last municipal election, in November 2001, when 5,383
votes were cast.
Mayoral candidate Joe O'Malley, a key backer of the proposed amendment,
said over 600 petitions have been gathered.
In his letter, Wheeler declined Levtzow's request to comment on
the constitutionality of the Westlake charter requirement. "I am
not at liberty to render an opinion to you as a private citizen,"
Wheeler wrote, "and must by our Charter counsel and serve those
enumerated in the Charter (the mayor, council and other city officials)."
Levtzow told West Life she believes council will allow the proposed
amendment on the November ballot even without 2,261 signatures to
avoid going to court.
O'Malley also hopes the amendment will be placed on the ballot.
"I wouldn't waste any taxpayers' money to keep people from voting,"
O'Malley also criticized council for not making public a legal opinion
on the signature question it received from the law firm of Squire,
Sanders and Dempsey. Council President Michael Killeen has declined
to disclose that opinion, citing attorney-client privilege.
"Why won't they make that public?" O'Malley asked. "I bet it contradicts
what the law director says now."
Killeen did not indicate what action council will take on the petitions.
Council may reject the petitions, saying it lacks the needed number
of petitions. Or council can sidestep the issue by submitting the
proposed amendment to the voters with a two-thirds majority.
That's what council did last year when the same group submitted
petitions for two amendments to make the law director an elected
position. Six out of seven council members actively opposed having
an elected law director but wanted to fight the issue on it merits.
However, the amendments passed by a 55 to 45 percent margin.