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State ex rel. Beard v. Hardin

Supreme Court of Ohio

April 4, 2018

The State ex rel. Beard et al.
v.
Hardin et al.

         In Mandamus.

          Submitted March 26, 2018

          Fitrakis & Gadell-Newton, L.L.C., and Robert J. Fitrakis, for relators.

          Zach Klein, Columbus City Attorney, and Richard N. Coglianese, Joshua T. Cox, and Charles P. Campisano, Assistant City Attorneys, for respondents Shannon G. Hardin, Michael Stinziano, Elizabeth Brown, Mitchell J. Brown, Jaiza Page, Emmanuel V. Remy, and Priscilla R. Tyson.

          Ronald J. O'Brien, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney, and Harold J. Anderson III, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for respondent Franklin County Board of Elections.

          Kennedy, J.

         {¶ 1} In this expedited election case, relators, Jonathan C. Beard and a committee in support of an initiative petition, Everyday People for Positive Change, seek a writ of mandamus to compel respondent members of the Columbus City Council to approve an ordinance placing a proposed city-charter amendment on the May 8, 2018 ballot. Relators also seek to compel respondent Franklin County Board of Elections to place the proposed amendment on the ballot. We deny the writs as to all respondents.

         I. Case Background

         {¶ 2} In May 2017, Beard submitted to the Columbus city clerk a certified copy of a petition for an initiative that would amend 11 sections of the Columbus City Charter. He was acting on behalf of Everyday People for Positive Change, the petition committee organized to support the proposed ballot measure.

         {¶ 3} The petition's title states its objectives, in general terms:

To enact electoral system and related administrative changes to Columbus City Council by amending Sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 17, 18, 20, 22, 41, and 46 of the Charter to create ten city council districts, establish nomination requirements for candidates from districts, provide for election of council members from districts, reduce the number of council members elected at-large to three, regulate growth in council staffing, change the process for mid-term appointments to vacant council seats, create term limits, establish contribution limits for council elections, and provide public access television for council elections.

         The proposed changes would increase the size of city council (from 7 to 13 members); introduce district representation for 10 of the seats; impose term limits; establish new rules for filling vacancies on council; establish new eligibility requirements for members; limit the number of staff employed by council; and introduce rules for city-council campaigns, including contribution limits and guaranteed time on public-access television.

         {¶ 4} The city attorney reviewed the petition in May 2017, as required by Columbus Charter 42-5. In a memorandum to the city clerk and council members, the city attorney stated his opinion that the petition violates the one-proposal rule, which provides that "[a] petition may only contain one proposal, which shall not address multiple or unrelated subject matters." Columbus Charter 42-2(d). Relators knew of the city attorney's concerns in May 2017, as shown in a letter dated May 16, 2017, in which their attorney expressed his disagreement with the city attorney's determination.

         {¶ 5} Relators circulated the petition for signatures, and on February 6, 2018, Beard filed signed part-petitions with the city clerk. The Franklin County Board of Elections validated a sufficient number of signatures for the proposal to be placed on the May 8 ballot.

         {¶ 6} On February 26, as required by Columbus Charter 42-9, the city attorney advised the city clerk and the city council on the legal sufficiency of the petition. In this memorandum, the city attorney again stated his opinion that the "petition violates the single-subject requirement." Based on his conclusion that the petition is not legally sufficient, the city attorney told the council that it could "reject forwarding these proposed amendments to the City Charter to the Board of Elections for voter consideration." The same day, the council passed an ordinance providing that the proposed charter amendment would not be placed on the May 8 ballot.

         {¶ 7} Relators filed this original action for a writ of mandamus on March 5.

         II. Argument of the Parties Regarding Issuance of the Writs of Mandamus

         {¶ 8} Relators argue, relying on jurisprudence interpreting the one-subject rule in Article II, Section 15(D), of the Ohio Constitution, that the proposed charter amendments do not violate the one-proposal rule, because the provisions all share a "common purpose, which is the comprehensive improvement of Columbus City Council." Respondent members of the city council argue that we need not reach the merits of relators' claim, because it is barred under the doctrine of laches. Respondents also assert that this court should not follow the constitutional-one-subject-rule jurisprudence, because the one-subject rule "is not applicable" here. The council members argue that the proposed amendment fails because it contains "disjointed and unrelated topics and subjects." Respondent Franklin County Board of Elections argues that it carried out its legal obligation and duty ...


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