November 7, 2023 Cincinnati voters passed this issue which changes our City Charter and makes new rules for (among other things) the process for amending the Charter, which is the Constitution of our City.
The Ohio River Bill of Rights (ORBOR) is in fact a Charter Amendment initiative, so Issue 23 may impact the work CROW has been doing—collecting signatures for this ballot initiative—since April 18, 2023.
Members of CROW have several concerns with Issue 23 and our concerns are not just about the impact on our initiative, but the very process by which it came to the ballot. Issue 23 passed by an overwhelming majority despite the fact that the language was very convoluted and according to an administrator at the Hamilton County the Board of Elections it was submitted just a couple of days before the 60 day deadline. It received very little press coverage, so most voters knew nothing about the issue prior to the election and what it actually means for the future changes that the people may want to make to their Charter.
While this Issue was touted by its sponsor Liz Keating (the only member of council to not win re-election) as being the least controversial, it was not familiar to community councils, activists, many voters or news outlets. There was no public debate about it or forums for the people to understand the full implications of these Charter changes. Imagine the U.S. Constitution being amended without most people knowing about it ahead of time?
A member of CROW went to the Council Clerk’s office to review city council meeting minutes to verify that the full reading of the ballot measure took place at the required 3 council meetings. Issue 23 is over 9 pages long. It was learned that on September 7 all members of City Council voted to have an emergency passage of the Issue so as to circumvent the required readings and to avoid the need for the subsequent 30 day waiting period after the readings. This made the Issue ballot ready immediately, no time for public comment, deliberation, scrutiny. Note the date of the council session: September 7. Election Day was November 7. Council submitted Issue 23 exactly 60 days before the board of elections required filing, not a couple of days earlier as we were told by the BOE.
A main concern for making Charter changes is that the voters do not see the original Charter language to grasp the full impact. Changes would need to be presented side-by-side with the existing Charter sections versus the amended Charter sections for voters to make a fully informed decision. How are voters able to do that for themselves in the voting booth? There are two ways that a Charter amendment can be placed on the ballot. One is for city council to place it on the ballot, like Issue 23 was, and the other is by the people of the City of Cincinnati who circulate petitions for voter signatures. We have the right to propose changes to our Charter as does city council, but all Charter changes must be approved by the voters. CROW had gone to city council and asked them to place the ORBOR on the ballot and the city council refused. So the community members began collecting signatures in April 2023 based on our constitutional right to do so. Is there any connection with the lack of transparency on this important Charter change? We don’t know for sure, but it seems to us that changes to the Charter affecting the people’s right to propose issues to the voters of the city by petitioning, should have been more publicized and discussed.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), who helped us draft the ORBOR sent a letter on behalf of CROW to the city’s law director to clarify our questions which included:
- How does the new 2 year timeline affect our effort? (There was no specific language that these changes apply retroactively.)
- What constitutes a “certified” copy of the petition? CROW did file a copy of ORBOR before we began collecting signatures.
- The law director did not give an opinion on ORBOR as this was not required at the time we began collecting signatures, so how might this affect our effort?
To date, the City Law Director has not responded to our questions.
Find the complete language of Issue 23 which did not appear on the ballot at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LfCTs4avBNdkVH9ONyfbG95yv_-QBxlFUqK_rKLXJ-w/edit