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Cleveland should change rules to make it harder to recall public officials, council President Kevin Kelley says

July 24, 2018

Cleveland should change rules to make it harder to recall public officials, council President Kevin Kelley says

CLEVELAND, Ohio – An effort to recall Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones illustrates the need to tighten up the rules in Cleveland’s charter governing the removal of elected officials, City Council President Kevin Kelley said Tuesday. 

Kelley, in an interview with cleveland.com, said he thinks getting a recall issue on the ballot is too easy under the current rules, opening the door for the process to be used frivolously.  

One of Kelley’s objections is that Jones has held his council seat less than seven months – too little time to warrant an attempt to have him recalled. 

“It’s a waste of public resources. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Kelley said. “We’re talking about taking away the decision that the voters made in the election.” 

If forced to hold a special election for a recall vote, the city must pay about $2,400 per precinct, Kelley said. Ward 7 has 23 precincts, so the cost of a special election would top $55,000. 

“That’s a chunk of money,” Kelley said. “That’s an [police] officer’s salary. That’s a park project.” 

Kelley said he knew of no recall effort that ever succeeded in Cleveland. An attempt to recall Mayor Dennis Kucinich failed in 1978 by just 236 votes out of more than 120,000 cast.  

How does the process work? 

Cleveland’s charter allows any registered voter to seek removal of an elected official. The voter must file an affidavit with the clerk of City Council that names the target of the recall and the reasons for seeking that person’s removal from office.  

The clerk provides petitions on which supporters of the recall collect signatures from registered voters. To be counted, the signers must have voted in the last city election. 

In the case of the Basheer Jones recall drive, petitioners will have to gather 676 signatures - 20 percent of the Ward 7 vote in the last city election -- by Aug. 10. 

The petitioners do not have to live in Ward 7, but those who sign the petition must be residents of the ward and must have voted in the 2017 election for their names to be counted.  

If enough signatures are verified as valid, the city schedules the recall election. 

What are Kelley’s objections? 

The charter bars any recall attempts until a person has been in office at least three months. Kelley says that’s not enough time for a new officeholder too to face removal for poor performance. 

He favors a waiting period of at least a year. And, he said, no recall should be allowed in the last year of a four-year term.  

The effort to remove Jones illustrates the problem, he said.  

Jones defeated Councilman TJ Dow last fall by just 13 voters out of nearly 3,200 cast following a heated campaign that included accusations that Jones wasn’t a city resident and therefore was ineligible to run.  

Ultimately the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections rejected that challenge. 

Before Jones had even taken office, City Council’s staff received calls asking how much time must pass before a recall effort could begin. 

A woman named Samantha Gray obtained recall petitions earlier this month. Kelley said little is known about her, though records indicate she doesn’t live in Ward 7. Cleveland.com has been unable to contact Gray. 

“Nobody ever guessed that this challenge would come from outside the ward,” Kelley said. “That’s silly. That’s just not good for the residents of Ward 7. 

What is the solution? 

Kelley took his ideas before a panel that is now reviewing possible amendments to the city charter. 

The Charter Review Commission is required every 10 years and appointed by the council president with council’s approval. It has been working through the charter section by section with an eye toward what might need to be updated. 

The panel discussed the recall sections at a meeting in June. Among the changes under consideration are restrictions on how quickly a recall could be attempted, whether a recall would be allowed late in a term and whether a greater number of signatures should be required to trigger a vote. 

Councilman Martin Keane, who chairs the commission, said it will be several months before its report is presented to City Council.  

After that, the council will decide what changes to put before voters, probably sometime in 2019. 

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