City fulfilled Democracy Day obligations in 2021, law director says

April 19, 2023

by Melissa Martin

March 7 city council meeting

Brecksville City Council and the city’s legal department said there will not be a city-sponsored Democracy Day in 2023, even though the ballot issue, approved by voters in 2012, specified a 10-year term.

The determination was made March 7 after city resident Bob Belovich questioned council and the administration about city ordinance 129.03. The ordinance stipulates the “biennial public hearings will continue for a period of 10 years through February 2023, or until a constitutional amendment reflecting the principles set forth in section 129.02 is ratified by three quarters of the state legislators.”

Democracy Day is a biannual public hearing before city council and the mayor. It examines the impact of political contributions of corporations, unions, PACS and super-PACS on the city.

Belovich told council that by his calculations, the city was one Democracy Day short of fulfilling its obligations.

Council President Laura Redinger said the city completed five Democracy Days starting in 2013, rotating every other year through 2021. She also said city officials communicated during the meeting in February 2021 that the meeting would be the last of its kind.

Law Director David Matty gave a similar opinion, stating that council and the mayor fulfilled their obligations.

“This is not a normal ordinance drafted by law director,” he said. “This is a resident petition that was filed, put on the ballot and approved. The language you see is the language on the petition. There is no doubt that the mayor [Jerry Hruby] and council presidents (Michael) Harwood and Redinger have dotted all their I’s and crossed all their T’s during these meetings. … The problem exists in the petition language itself. If you take language as written, the [obligations] ran through February 2022.”

Councilman Dominic Caruso said if residents feel strongly and want to put legislation on the ballot again, they could create an extension to Democracy Day. For now, however, no further action will be taken by the city.

“We feel we accomplished what was set forth in the legislation, and we are trying to bring closure to what the expectations were,” Caruso said.

Belovich has since announced that the Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics will host a 2023 Democracy Day on its own at the city’s community center from 7-9 p.m., on Wednesday, May 10, as part of the nationwide “Move to Amend” effort.

The “Move to Amend” effort is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations and citizens committed to ending corporate rule and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.

Democracy Day has long been an opportunity for the public to share their thoughts concerning campaign financing, he said.

Brecksville voters approved the ballot issue in November 2012. After that, the mayor and council designated a day in February, following the November federal elections, as Democracy Day.

According to the ordinance, as part of the Democracy Day agenda, Hruby and at least one city councilperson are required to submit testimony. Brecksville residents are permitted to submit oral testimony for a period of at least five minutes per citizen.

Hruby is then required to send a letter within a week of the hearing to leaders of the Ohio House and Senate, Brecksville’s Congressional representative and both Ohio U.S. Senators stating that Brecksville citizens in November 2012 voted in support of a citizens initiative calling for a constitutional amendment declaring: “Only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with constitutional rights. Money is not equivalent to speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”

The letter also provides an overview of citizen comments made during the hearing.