of Elections blocks
advisory vote on Bradley property
By Kevin Kelley
Published Sept. 26, 2007
city-backed advisory vote on rezoning 42-acres of school district
land on Bradley Road has been taken off the November ballot.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections voted 3 to
0 Monday to uphold the Westlake school board’s protest of the ballot
The vote would have asked residents whether they want
the property rezoned for recreational purposes. The land is currently
zoned for residential use, which allows for recreational use. However,
the rezoning would have blocked private development on the property.
City Council, which has the authority to rezone the
Bradley Road property, was anticipating voting for a rezoning ordinance
if the advisory vote told them to.
The city has sought the land for baseball and soccer
fields but has been unable to reach a deal with the school board.
Craig S. Miller, the attorney representing the school
board, argued that the Westlake City Charter prohibits “any ordinance
referring to zoning” from being designated an emergency measure
and therefore prohibits such ordinances from taking legal effect
sooner than 30 days after passed by City Council, Miller said. Council
passed the ordinance July 6, and the filing for the advisory election
was done on July 11.
Miller also called the proposed ballot language “grossly
misleading” because it asked voters to rezone the Bradley Road land
to a zoning category that does not as yet legally exist. City Council
introduced an ordinance creating a public recreation district but
has not passed it.
Mayor Dennis Clough said City Council will have to
decide whether to appeal the Board of Elections’ decision.
“It’s unfortunate that the taxpayers of Westlake have
been prevented from determining the use of the land,” Clough said.
Officials from the city’s law department did not return
phone calls seeking comment by West Life’s deadline.
Council President Michael Killeen said he was shocked
at the election board’s decision.
“I thought the Board of Election’s job was to try
and keep issues on the ballot,” Killeen told West Life.
Killeen noted that the whole rezoning issue started
when a citizens group presented City Council with hundreds of petitions
asking that the land be rezoned for recreation.
The council president, who had been critical of the
school board’s use of taxpayers’ dollars on legal costs to fight
the advisory vote, was hesitant on whether the city would pursue
a legal challenge to the election board’s decision.
“It’s unfortunate that the Board of Elections has
worked with the school board to gag our citizens,” Killeen said.
School board President Renee D’Ettorre Wargo, obviously
pleased that the protest was upheld, said she believed the rezoning
effort was an attempt to devalue the district’s property.
“(The Board of Elections) obviously thought that the
school board had a very valid position,” she said.
School board member Joe O’Malley said the district’s
legal arguments on the case were sound. He wasn’t surprised the
protest was upheld, he said.
“The focus has to be on resolving the issue,” he told
But even in their moment of triumph, school board
members bickered on how to proceed.
At a Monday evening school board meeting, Vice President
Thomas Mays advocated pursuing a lease agreement with the city over
the property. O’Malley then made a motion to direct attorney Miller
to develop a lease agreement with the city.
Andrea Rocco suggested the board dust off a previously
written but aborted lease agreement instead of writing a new one.
O’Malley revised his motion to one in which Miller is directed to
write a letter to the city requesting negotiations on a lease.
Rocco questioned why the district should incur more
legal fees and suggested the board write the letter instead. “For
goodness sakes, we can write our own letter,” she said.
Mays noted that the board had agreed several months
ago to hire Miller to conduct all negotiations for the board. At
the time, D’Ettorre Wargo explained that the attorney was hired
to de-politicize the negotiations.
D’Ettorre Wargo also questioned why Rocco, who works
part-time as a prosecuting attorney for the city of Westlake, was
involved in the debate when she had earlier recused herself from
negotiations over the property.
O’Malley’s resolution instructing the attorney to
contact the city about a lease passed 3 to 2, with Rocco and Joe
Marinucci voting against the motion.