GREEN Citizens for Responsible Green Government have gathered signatures through a petition effort in hopes to change the city of Green’s charter.
The change is to make the law director position be an elected position rather than an appointment made by the mayor. The group turned in 1,193 signatures after more than five months of gathering.
When the signatures were turned into the city, Green Interim Law Director William Chris raised some concerns about the language of the proposed change.
The city released the following statement regarding the language:
"The proposed charter amendment, as written, conflicts with the Ohio Revised Code, the City of Green Charter and the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. While the law director can work for the people of the City of Green, he or she cannot individually 'represent' the people of Green. Combining such responsibilities to represent the City and the people as set forth in this proposed amendment, creates an unmanageable conflict of interest. Additionally, the law director, as defined by statute, Ohio Revised Code Section 705.11, does not 'represent the people,' but in fact is to 'act as the legal advisor to an attorney for the municipal corporation, for all officers of the municipal corporation in matters relating to their official duties.' The proposed legislation improperly limits those duties."
Attorney David Mucklow, who submitted the petition, doesn’t agree with Chris.
"Bill Chris, contract lawyer for Green, wants to challenge that verbiage as to whom the duty belongs," Mucklow said. "He has a problem with 'the people' contending there is no duty owed to the people; however this phrase appears in the Declaration of Independence and most state Constitutions."
Mucklow said government always serves "the people" and nothing in the language specifies that the law director has a duty to "individual citizens" as Chris contends, just the politic body of the local government, which is served by the municipality.
"The language we chose is checked by the lawyer's ethical duties under our Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to conflicts of interest," Mucklow said. "There are no reported cases that we have found supporting problems with the language in the initiative."
The city has turned the signatures in to the Summit County Board of Elections, which will review them to make sure they are valid and then return them to the city. City Council will then vote whether to put the issue on the November ballot.
"Green Council has a ministerial duty to advance the initiative to the ballot and cannot exercise quasi-judicial authority to stop it as we expect that the mayor will direct to be done," Mucklow said. "Challenges can only be made after the voters have passed it."
Several other neighboring communities such as Tallmadge, Barberton and Stow elect law directors. Westlake, Wilmington, Shelby, Mansfield, Findlay, Salem and Zanesville are additional cities across the state who elect a law director.
Under the proposed charter amendment, the new law director would have to be a resident of Green and a licensed Ohio lawyer. Citizens for Responsible Green have determined there are 390 lawyers registered with the Ohio Supreme Court whose licenses are included in the several zip codes within Green.
The group claims the person elected to the position would not have to worry about making the mayor or City Council happy and would be able to interpret the law on behalf of the people, not the politicians.
"For too many years, we have seen law directors act like the personal attorney of the mayor and use their position to attack anyone that the mayor does not like or agree with," Mucklow said. "Many on the present council have voiced this concern. The initiative will ensure that the law director is independent and not be the whip of the mayor who often has a political partisan agenda."