Hilliard voters will decide March 15 whether to amend the city charter to prohibit rezonings by emergency action and tax-increment-financing districts for residential uses.
The Supreme Court of Ohio on Jan. 19 issued a writ of mandamus in favor of Keep Hilliard Beautiful, the committee that circulated a petition late last year to place the issue on the ballot.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court agreed with our filings. It’s a shame the city used taxpayer dollars in an ill-advised effort to keep this off the ballot,” said committee member Andy Teater.
Teater also is a member of the Hilliard school board.
Hilliard law director Tracy Bradford said the city is reviewing the ruling. A Jan. 19 press release from the city said Bradford would craft legislation complying with the court’s order for consideration by Hilliard City Council on Monday, Jan. 25.
City Council, in a 5-2 decision Dec. 14, rejected an ordinance to place the issue on the March 15 primary ballot.
Keep Hilliard Beautiful responded by seeking a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court.
The legal definition of a writ of mandamus is an order from a court to a government official or officials to fulfill their legal duties, and the court’s Jan. 19 ruling compels Hilliard City Council to place the issue on the March 15 ballot.
Nathan Painter, Kelly McGivern, Al Iosue, Joe Erb and Bill Uttley voted to reject the ordinance; Les Carrier and Tom Baker voted in favor of it being placed on the ballot, but Baker said he did not support the goals of Keep Hilliard Beautiful, only that the voters have the opportunity to consider the amendment.
The five council members who voted to reject the ordinance cited a legal opinion from Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease that the petition had three specific defects in regard to Ohio elections laws.
On Dec. 14, Joseph P. Miller, an attorney from the law firm, told council members the petition was flawed in three ways.
He said the petition did not include a title for proposed measures; it did not indicate whether the proposed amendments were new sections of city charter or amendments to existing sections; and it was altered by adding to each individual page the name of the committee circulating the petition.
“On those three bases, (City Council) can find that these petitions are not valid,” Miller said Dec. 14.
The Supreme Court did not agree.
In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court wrote, “We reject the claim that the petition, as drafted, violates (the Ohio Revised Code).”
“The entire amendment, including the explanatory captions, fits easily on a single page. We see no risk that the captioning format will ‘interfere with the petition’s ability to fairly and substantially present the issue (or) mislead voters,’ ” the court opined relative to the petition lacking a title.
Concerning the argument that the petition “fails to indicate whether it would enact entirely new law, amend preexisting law or repeal existing law,” City Council “identifies no statute that requires a petition to include such information,” the opinion said.
Concerning the inclusion of the committee’s name on each page of the petition, and the further argument that the name is misleading, the Supreme Court wrote, “City Council does not explain how this fact changes the legal analysis or makes the petitions so misleading as to be ineligible for the ballot.”
The Supreme Court concluded, “Because we find these objections unavailing, we grant the writ of mandamus to compel the Hilliard City Council to approve the necessary ordinance to place the initiative petition on the March 15, 2016, ballot.”
Miller said Jan. 19 that “City Council took its job under Ohio law to review the petitions seriously.”
“There were legitimate concerns that the petitions did not strictly comply with Ohio’s election laws and could have misled Hilliard’s voters,” Miller said. “In its opinion, the Supreme Court largely did not address those legal issues in detail but said simply the proposed amendments could appear on the ballot.
“It will be up to Hilliard’s voters to scrutinize these misleading proposals. The voters will now determine if the proposed amendments are not in the best interests of the city and its citizens.”
However, Miller said, the law does allow for a party to ask the Supreme Court for reconsideration of a writ of mandamus.
City Council President Nathan Painter said Jan. 19 although he is disappointed with the decision, the city will work to ensure that its residents understand the effects of the proposed amendments.
“I’m clearly disappointed with the outcome, but the court has ruled and we respect its decision. However, the outcome does provide council with the opportunity to pass an ordinance that contains a clearly worded title for the benefit of our residents ... (that the) proponents of the charter amendments failed to do in the first place,” Painter said. “The proposed amendments to the charter are misleading as to the actual negative and damaging impact their passage would have on economic development and property owners’ rights and, otherwise, will handcuff the city financially in our economic-development efforts.”
He said the amendments “restrain, if not stop, the ability of the city to finance and construct roads, sewers and other utilities that service all residents. I am confident that Hilliard voters will see through this misguided effort and will vote against amending the charter in this manner.”
City Council Vice President Kelly McGivern said she relied on Miller's legal opinion to make her decision Dec. 14, but City Council now has guidance from the Supreme Court on the matter.
"I look forward to discussing the issue with residents who in March will vote on the constitutional changes that will impact the services they receive from the city," McGivern said.
Meanwhile, Carrier said, Keep Hilliard Beautiful is “ready to campaign.”
“We’re hitting the street and we’re going to educate people,” Carrier said.
Teater and fellow board member Paul Lambert, Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman and Carrier formed the nucleus of the committee, which was established in the wake of City Council’s Aug. 24 emergency action to rezone land to allow the development of 218 apartments north of Davidson Road and east of Interstate 270.
“The committee is ecstatic,” Carrier said.
The committee has scheduled a community breakfast from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Joint Safety Services Building, 5171 Northwest Parkway, to inform residents about the committee’s purpose. It also is organizing an event Feb. 18 at the Heritage Golf Club, 3525 Heritage Club Drive, at which, Carrier said, he wants to debate opponents of the proposed charter amendments.