Upper Arlington voters will decide Aug. 23 if any of four City Council members will be removed from office.
A year after a group of residents began an initiative to recall the majority of Upper Arlington City Council, local voters will have the final say.
Council voted 6-0 during a special meeting Monday, July 18, to hold a special election Aug. 23 to determine if John C. Adams, David DeCapua, Kip Greenhill and Debbie Johnson will be removed from office.
The Franklin County Board of Elections confirmed July 18 that UA for Accountability -- formerly known as Save Northam Park -- submitted enough valid signatures from voters to force the recall vote. The group needed to collect at least 2,273 valid signatures for each candidate it seeks to remove.
Now, the four officials have just more than a month to fight their potential ousters, and they kicked the campaign into high gear during Monday's meeting.
"Sometimes, there's going to be very, very strong disagreements between us," Greenhill, council's vice president, said. "Now over almost the 100-year history of our community, we've always been able to work that out, and the result is a community that all of us -- every person -- respects, admires and loves.
"Now we have a group of people who are coming forward and taking an unprecedented step in disrupting that process of working out the expectations of the city as far as watching the expenditures, but also meeting the high expectations of the community."
The board of elections required council to set an election within 40 days of the petitions being certified, but Adams said council could have delayed the election "and let the lawyers and judges figure that out."
Instead, he said, members chose to put the needs of the city ahead of themselves.
DeCapua accused UA for Accountability of soliciting signatures under false premises that a recall would save trees at Northam Park or ensure a community center wouldn't be built.
"We've heard so many farcical, outlandish tales," he said. "This is like fraud at its worst."
When at least two audience members asked to address council, Johnson, council's president, proceeded with the election date vote.
No speaker slips were made available, which is customary at council's regular meetings.
The city's legal staff said public discussion wasn't required because council suspended legislative rules to approve the election date by emergency, meaning it could take effect immediately.
Caroline Lahrmann, a member of UA for Accountability, submitted a makeshift speaker slip to the city clerk during the meeting, but was not permitted to address council.
She accused council members of campaign "grandstanding" during a public meeting, and said the actions further confirmed her group's position that city leaders are unresponsive to residents' concerns.
"We should've been able to respond," Lahrmann said. "That's why we're concerned about a lack of public input. Once again, we're seeing an abuse of power."
UA for Accountability has questioned city leaders' fiscal responsibility and accused them of campaign deception because city-issued fliers calling for an income-tax increase in November 2014 failed to state the added revenue could be used for parks.
The four targeted council members and an anti-recall group, Believe in UA, have disputed those claims, pointing to a series of public meetings the city hosted to collect resident feedback on plans for redeveloping Northam Park.
They and city officials also have said that, although some Issue 23 fliers didn't mention parks, officials made clear the new tax revenue would go to parks during discussions in the community, through statements that appeared in ThisWeek Upper Arlington News and in a Citizen Financial Review Task Force report that was mailed to all UA households prior to the levy vote.
After Monday's meeting, both DeCapua and Councilwoman Carolyn Casper said they were surprised public comment wasn't allowed, and that it should have been.
Adams said the decision came on advice from City Attorney Jeanine Hummer's office, but when asked if he believed it was "bad advice," he said, "It's legal advice. I'm not an attorney."
During Monday's meeting, Johnson said, "It is challenging to have to sit up here and vote on this and it's hard not to take this personally."
After the meeting, she said suspending the rules negated a need for public comment, and that the meeting was "procedural" and held only to set an election date.
Johnson said she's responded to numerous communications from residents about the recall, and the public has had opportunities to speak on the issue.
"I've heard a lot from the public," she said. "We simply did what the petitioners have asked us to do."
The recall will cost the city of Upper Arlington approximately $63,127, according to the board of elections.
UA for Accountability has said a recently rejected protest to Greenhill's recall by Priscilla Mead eliminated the city's ability to hold the recall Aug. 2 and share elections costs with the city of Columbus, which is holding a special election that day.
According to the board of elections, such a move would have saved Upper Arlington about $2,000 because it could've split the costs of operating two voting precincts that overlap with Columbus precincts.