Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reform effort is running out of time

The county corruption charges offer a huge opportunity for reformers. You'd think they'd rush to get their petitions out on the street this week and gather signatures to support the new form of county government they've drafted. (Read the proposed county charter as a pdf here.)

But this is the latest update I got from Nancy Lesic, a local communications consultant working with the reform group:

The group is continuing outreach efforts and trying to gauge whether the funding support necessary to launch an all-out campaign exists. Volunteers have begun getting signatures, but no effort of any scale as yet.

If the reformers want to get their proposed charter on the November ballot, they only have 26 days left -- until July 13 -- to get 45,458 signatures.

I finally got an answer to my question about the two rounds of signature-gathering. There's a second deadline for gathering signatures, Sept. 4 -- but it only applies if the petitioners turn in at least 45,458 signatures, but some of them are declared invalid. Then the petitioners get to try to replace them with new ones. The board of elections had to consult the county prosecutor for a legal opinion to nail this down. Here is what the prosecutor told them:

All petitions, county reform, Cleveland, etc., at the time of filing must purport to contain enough valid signatures to satisfy the initial filing requirement, in order to get additional time to meet the signature requirement.

In practical terms, I think that means that the reformers are out of time to launch a volunteer petition drive. They need money to hire paid signature-gatherers. Then, if they get it on the ballot, they'll need money to promote it and overcome the certain opposition to it.

If the reformers can't find the financial backers to mount a petition drive, they may miss their best chance to create a new government. With corruption charges like these in the news, I have to imagine that a lot of voters will be happy to say yes to a new county charter.

Especially one that includes this novel provision: elected officials could lose their jobs if they fail to report a bribe attempt.

A County elected official shall forfeit that office if the officer ... (2) Knowingly violates any express prohibition of this Charter, including Section 12.04 hereof ...

Any elected or appointed County officer who receives or who has specific and personal knowledge of any offer by any person of anything of value to be given to a County officer or employee for the purpose of influencing such officer or employee in the performance of such officer’s or employee’s official duties shall promptly report the matter to a law enforcement officer or agency believed by the reporting officer or employee to have jurisdiction or responsibility concerning the matter. Such officer or employee shall fully cooperate in any investigation of and any resulting prosecution or action relating to the matter.

A relatively small coalition drafted the charter. They've been criticized for that. It may also be an impediment to raising the money they need. Bill Callahan at Callahan's Cleveland Diary has the best list I've seen of who took part in the charter meetings. I count five Democratic politicians, one Republican politician, three influential Republican donors, and two political consultants. Callahan also has some skeptical thoughts about the painstakingly crafted boundaries for the 11 proposed county council districts.

Update, 6:30 p.m.: posted a Mark Naymik column this afternoon on the reformers' quest for cash. Naymik also reports that there's going to be an anti-reform rally at Rev. Marvin McMickle's Antioch Baptist Church on June 22.

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