October 22, 2014

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Resident questions legality of Oberlin income tax issue

OBERLIN — A former City Council member has petitioned the Lorain County Board of Elections to study whether the Oberlin income tax issue on the ballot was certified illegally.

Oberlin resident David Ashenhurst contends that a resolution to put Issue 22 on the ballot did not receive enough votes to be considered an emergency measure.

Issue 22 is an income tax increase that would cover a $1.2 million city budget shortfall. The issue would raise the city income tax rate to 2.5 percent to fund city services.

A motion to suspend the rules and act on an emergency was approved unanimously by City Council during a meeting Jan. 21. During the same meeting, four of seven board members approved the 0.6 percent income tax increase request.

But Councilman Bryan Burgess, who also believes the vote was invalid, said City Council needed at least five votes to pass the ordinance by a super-majority to make the deadline of 4 p.m. Feb. 5 to appear on the ballot. Otherwise, he said the ordinance would take effect 30 days later, which would be too late.

City Law Director Jon Clark said he would look into the issue. Burgess said the resolution submitted to the Lorain County Board of Elections indicates that five City Council members approved the ordinance.

“I think they blatantly disregarded Council rules, and that they certified it illegally,” he said.

Burgess denied that he tried to get Issue 22 removed from the ballot, but he said he did express concern about the vote to Clark. He said he supports the 0.4 percent income tax increase.

When contacted about Ashenhurst’s petition Thursday, Clark said ballot issue was certified legally.

Because seven board members unanimously approved elevating the issue as an emergency measure, he said five votes were not needed to certify it for the ballot. Clark added that all approved resolutions contain the five-sevenths language, regardless of whether five board members approved the issue.

“It had met the requirements of the charter,” he said.

Ashenhurst said that because of the way the voting was handled, he has asked the Lorain County Board of Elections to study the issue and remove it from the ballot, if necessary.

“I’m not sure if it was all done right, and (city officials) said they’d take a look at it. They never did get back to us, and at that time, the garage fire happened and everyone forgot about it,” he said.

Paul Adams, director of the Lorain County Board of Elections, said the city of Oberlin is a charter community, so legal interpretations of the city’s charter and of voting issues are deferred to the city’s law director — Clark, who found no issues with the way the vote was handled.

“Barring an order from the court, there is no way we can remove it from the ballot at this time,” he said.

Ashenhurst said he also questions fliers that are being distributed throughout the city on Issue 22. He contends the information pieces are campaign literature being funded by the city.

Clark said that while the city paid for the literature, the Ohio Revised Code permits using public funds for informational material. He denied that the fliers are being used to promote Issue 22, but said the Lorain County Auditor has been contacted for his opinion.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.


  • oldruss

    Before an ordinance can take effect immediately as an “emergency measure” Council must suspend the rules so that three readings of the ordinance are waive, and then Council must pass the ordinance itself by a specified super-majority, which in Oberlin’s case is set out in its charter as five affirmative votes out of seven. Failing to get that specified super-majority, I would say the ordinance is not passed as an emergency, and therefore may not go into effect until 30 days after its passage. We’ll see what the politicians at the Board of Elections have to say.