BRECKSVILLE - The city is fighting a Sept. 11 ruling by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted that an the initiative petition be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.
In a Sept. 13 filing with the Ohio Supreme Court, the city protested Husted’s decision supporting placing the petition, "Brecksville Initiative in Support of Movement to Amend the U.S. Constitution to Establish that Corporations are not people and Money is not Speech."
Husted issued the ruling after a tie vote on the city’s protest by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Mayor Jerry Hruby was clear as to why he opposes the terms outlined in the petition in a Sept. 18 interview.
"The secretary of state was not given all of the information he should have been provided," Hruby said. "He didn’t address all of the issues in his decision."
Hruby was referring to the fact that the transcript of the Aug. 28 meeting, which was sent to Husted, was missing seven pages where McNair addressed the fact that he had a potential conflict of interest in that he is a Brecksville resident and ward leader for Brecksville in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Democratic Club. In that section, McNair's reasoning is included for his conclusion that he could rule on this issue impartially.
Before the city’s protest went to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for an Aug. 28 vote, Hruby explained why he opposes it.
The mayor said that he does not think that the city’s government should be involved in trying to push a constitutional amendment. He also fears that allowing such an issue to go to the ballot would set a precedent that could potentially open the flood gates for any special interest group that wants to pass legislation, which makes the city an advocate for their cause.
Hruby reiterated both of these points following Husted’s decision.
"This government should not be involved in this way," Hruby said. "What happens if people say they disagree and they think it’s unconstitutional? We would still have to advocate it?"
If the issue goes to a vote, as it’s currently scheduled to Nov. 6, and passes, the city will be required to hold a public hearing in each February following a November federal election.
The hearing would examine the impact of political contributions of corporations, unions, PACs and Super-PACs on the city. The mayor and at least one council member would be required to give testimony and the meeting would also allow for testimony from citizens of Brecksville.
The mayor would then be required to send a letter to the leaders of the Ohio House and Senate, the city’s U.S. Congressional representative and both U.S. senators from Ohio stating that residents in Brecksville voted in support of a citizens initiative calling for a constitutional amendment. That amendment states that only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with constitutional rights and that money is not equivalent to free speech.
Based on that, regulating political contributions and spending is not equal to limiting a person’s free speech.
"It appears the city gave our law director a blank check to try and defeat our grass roots movement," Rose Petsche said via email after learning that the city is taking the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court. "If they had waited and let the people vote they might have been able to defeat it at the ballot box at no cost. If we won, they could have challenged it at that time. Now we’re on the hook for a projected $6,000-$10,000 cost per Brecksville Council President Greg Skaljac. In reality, the cost could be much higher."
Rose Petsche and her husband Jack were integral in the drafting of the petition along with other members of the non-partisan group Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics. Rose is the treasurer for the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Democratic Club.
Hruby said he also takes issue with the fact that some people, such as Board of Elections member and Brecksville resident Eben "Sandy" McNair have ties to unions, which often use super PAC money when supporting political issues.
He pointed out that unions are one of the types of organizations that the language of the petition lists for its use of such money to influence political campaigns.
"I find it sort of interesting that some of the people involved with this petition have been involved in unions and super PACs," Hruby said.
Hruby clarified that he has nothing against the Petsches, McNair or anyone else involved with the petition, saying that he simply doesn’t think that it is something the city government should be involved with.
McNair responded to Hruby's comment, saying that it is baseless and not relevant to the issue.
"I would say that the mayor's comment is inaccurate and it's outrageous that he would imply that I would not do my job because of who I represent," McNair said.
McNair called the fact that the pages were not sent to the Secretary of State "an administrative mistake," adding that he doesn't see anyone could think that he or the board would have to gain by omitting those pages.
The portion of the meeting transcribed in those pages includes a brief exchange between McNair and Brecksville Law Director David Matty following McNair's explanation as to why he did not feel compelled to exclude himself from voting on the issue. McNair asked Matty if he had any questions about his decision to which Matty responded that he would let the matter go to the courts if need be.
Clerk of the Board of Elections Linda Steimle, who was responsible for sending the information about the petition to Husted, said she did not notice that the pages were missing when she sent it.
"The court reporting service that we use omitted that section," Steimle said. "It was a poor decision by the court reporter."