CLEVELAND — In spite of having the required number of signatures – over 10,000 – a petition for legislation seeking to make properties in Cleveland lead-safe drafted by a group of community activists was rejected by the city clerk and Board of Election because it failed to include a line of text that is apparently required by state law. However, late Friday afternoon, community activists announced they would be 'going to court' to force the city council clerk to adhere to the city charter and introduce the organization's ordinance for hearings and an eventual vote.
The Initiative Petition filed with the clerk on April 2 by Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH), did not contain “election falsification language” mandated by state law, and was therefore rejected as facially invalid, according to a letter sent to CLASH by City Council Clerk Patricia Britt. Essentially, because the group neglected to include a single line of text on the petition, it did not strictly comply with the mandatory election statute, and was deemed invalid under state law, Britt said in her letter to CLASH. That statement, which had to be on the petition in boldface capital letters, was: "WHOEVER COMMITS ELECTION FALSIFICATION IS GUILTY OF A FELONY OF THE FIFTH DEGREE."
Late Friday, CLASH said it had started the process of going to court to force Britt to introduce the ordinance to City Council.
In a news release, CLASH said it acknowledges that the language on the petition booklet does not meet the state's requirements to eventually be placed on the November ballot. However, that technically should not prevent the petition from moving to the City Council, the news release states.
"Today's decision is disappointing but not surprising," said CLASH member Yvonka Hall. "This is more of the same. The City has been unwilling to deal with this issue in a substantive way for decades. Today, they've again chosen to kick the can down the road rather than act with urgency this situation demands."
CLASH members said the council clerk is required by the city charter to certify the petitions only on the basis of whether there are enough of the required signatures. City officials said the clerk has no discretion on the matter and must reject the petition as a matter of state law.
CLASH hand-delivered the petition to city leaders earlier this month, along with 10,301 signatures, which would have triggered a provision in the city charter to put the legislation before voters in November.
CLASH’s proposed legislation would require landlords to certify that their properties are ‘lead safe’ by 2021. The legislation would also require a property’s lead safe status be disclosed on advertisements. Additional tenant protections would also be included.
News 5 has reached out to members of CLASH for comment.