GREEN An effort to place a referendum on the ballot regarding the NEXUS settlement won’t be moving forward.
During the June 11 council meeting, Green Interim Law Director William Chris said several legal counsels reviewed the document and found several insufficiencies.
The referendum effort came about following City Council approving a settlement with NEXUS on Feb. 7 by a 4-3 vote. The city received park land, $7.5 million and several other safety measures as a part of the settlement. Citizens for Responsible Green Government formed and circulated a petition to have the settlement decided by the voters on the ballot. The group collected more than 1,500 signatures and gave it to the city, which then turned it over to the Summit County Board of Elections.
The Board of Elections declined to address the validity of the petition and only focused on the validity of the individual signatures. Those signatures were found to be valid. The petitions were then returned to the city to determine the sufficiency and validity of the petition, based on Ohio Revised Code Section 731.31.
After obtaining several legal opinions, the city won’t be returning the petition back to the Board of Elections. Legal advice from counsel said the petition is insufficient and invalid. The city requested the opinion of Chris and an outside law firm, Brennan, Manna & Diamond, to provide a legal opinion on the sufficiency and validity of the petitions.
The two separate legal opinions found the petition to be invalid. The city said the petition as circulated did not have the final and approved ordinance attached, which included revised and stricken language from the ordinance (Resolution 2018-R09). The city also said the petition did not have the appropriate signatures and roll call tabulation of votes of City Council and it did not include the settlement agreement (attached to Resolution 2018-R09 as exhibit A).
"These insufficiencies could have misled residents into signing," Chris said. "Residents need to know what they are signing and why. During the review period, two signers removed their name from the petition because they were told that signing the petition would stop the pipeline."
Chris said all the legal opinions came to the same conclusion and he called the decision legally "easy." He said Green has more oversight and review of the pipeline than any other community. He stands by the legislation being an administrative action, something former Green Law Director Diane Calta also said.
Attorney David Mucklow, who led the charge with the referendum, said the mayor is violating the Ohio election laws and is engaging in an abuse of power and is solely concerned with how the issue impacts his re-election.
"The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a municipality cannot act as the gate keeper and determine which issues go to the ballot or not," Mucklow said. "Only a court of law can determine this. The Board of Elections has already ruled that sufficient valid signatures exist to advance this issue to the ballot. The Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that legislation involving the acquisition of land by a municipality as part of a settlement agreement renders the legislation legislative in nature and subject to referendum."
Mucklow has raised concerns in the past with the legislation not complying with the city’s charter and that it violated the 30-day rule.
"The mayor is not concerned with complying with the Green Charter, Ohio laws or the expressed desire of Green voters to have the issue placed on the ballot," Mucklow said. "Obviously, his prior law director was concerned with these omissions and quit her post. He has repeatedly misled the people of Green as to his intentions with respect to NEXUS and violated his campaign promises."
Mucklow isn’t done fighting, though.
"I would encourage the residents of Green to continue to support the committee that has been organized to oppose the mayor and place this issue and other issues on the ballot," Mucklow said. "It is clear that we need new leadership in Green."
Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer is confident the city did the right thing.
"I want the residents of Green to understand that the city administration never wanted the pipeline in our community," Neugebauer said. "My predecessor Dick Norton began the fight against FERC, the governing body that approves pipelines, and I continued the fight against the pipeline route including legal battles on several fronts. Despite some success, we leveraged our legal posture to negotiate a favorable settlement with NEXUS, based on advice of legal counsel. Our community can be reassured that Green did all that we could to provide the best outcome possible. It still isn’t the one we had strived for, but it is better than what we would have received if we would have continued the legal battle."
Following the announcement from the city, Citizens for Responsible Green Government released a statement stating the city threw out hurdles every step of the way. The group said the finance director refused to sign off on the referendum when it was first presented and it was impossible to attach the agreement to the referendum because the city did not release it, and the committee could not wait to start collecting signatures because of the 30-day deadline to collect signatures.
The statement also said that some people who were for the pipeline signed the petition because they believed the people should have a say at the ballot.
"We have a city government overruling democracy and the voting processes," the statement said.
Councilman Stephen Dyer said members of City Council never had the agreement before them when they voted and that it wasn’t attached to the legislation until several days after the vote. He said a lot of people worked hard to gather the signatures for the referendum and said it is clear the city isn’t listening to its residents.
Dyer also said NEXUS submitted information to the Board of Elections when it was reviewing the signatures. He said NEXUS had three lawyers working on the issue trying to convince the Board of Elections not to put the issue on the ballot.
Councilman Chris Humphrey, however, said it is interesting that the same legal conclusion was made in regards to the referendum that Calta said a long time ago. He said it would be inappropriate to accept the petition because the law states it was an administrative action.
"I feel bad for the people who were signing it who weren’t informed on what they were signing," Humphrey said.