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Seven Hills firefighter petition leads to measure to block nonresidents from passing petitions

Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 20:31:42-04

After Seven Hills firefighters collected signatures for a charter amendment, the Seven Hills City Council approved a separate measure that would bar non-residents from circulating petitions to place future issues on the ballot.

After discussion of cuts to the Seven Hills Fire Department’s budget, firefighters passed a petition to maintain overnight staffing levels and allow for two concurrent ambulance runs.

Seven Hills City Council President Matt Trafis told newsnet5.com that less than half of the Seven Hills firefighters who collected the nearly 1400 signatures were Seven Hills residents. He said the firefighter petition was impetus for exploring petition residency requirements. 

“We don’t think its right that people outside of Seven Hills or outside the county can dictate what we do in our own city,” Trafis told newsnet5.com. 

But Seven Hills Mayor Richard Dell’Aquila argued that the firefighters, who pay income taxes in Seven Hills and protect the city's residents, should not be considered outsiders in the community.

“They mean so much to our community and they’ve done so much for us,” Mayor Dell’Aquila said. 

Del’Acquila explained that there is already a residency requirement for the petition process. Seven Hills requires that five resident electors must form a committee and sign off on submitting the petition for the consideration of the electorate. 

According to documents reviewed by newsnet5.com, a committee of five Seven Hills residents is listed on the firefighter's petitions as the supporters and representatives of the petitioners in all matters relating to the measure.   

“It’s irrelevant who knocks on the door and asks you to sign it,” he said. “Whether that firefighter is a resident or a nonresident, the issue is still being put in front of you by that committee of five residents.”

But Trafis said continuing to allow petitions by nonresidents could be a slippery slope. 

“Other departments might get the same idea and the police department or service department or recreation center may do a similar initiative,” Trafis explained. “And we simply wouldn’t be able to sustain the city if every department were to do this.”

Dell’Aquila said he wished there had been more time to investigate the constitutionality of the measure. He said it was added to the agenda over the weekend and approved with only a few minutes of conversation. 

“Ten minutes isn’t enough to consider something this important,” he said.

But Trafis said the council was up against an elections deadline and the city’s legal director has evaluated free speech concerns. 

“There is no restriction of First Amendment rights and if there was we certainly wouldn’t be doing this,” Trafis said. 

Should the measure make it to the ballot, Seven Hills residents will have the opportunity to vote on the issue this November.