Elections Board Rejects Challenge To Park Levy Ballot Language

Sep 8, 2015

Tim Mara (center left) speaks to Hamilton County Board of Elections
Credit Howard Wilkinson

The Hamilton County Board of Elections Monday morning rejected a challenge to the wording of a Cincinnati charter amendment that would create a one mill tax for city parks.

Lawyer Tim Mara, an opponent of the charter amendment levy, went to the board Monday morning to argue that the language for the ballot misleads voters with its reference to the new tax money paying for such things as acquisition of new park land and lighting and safety improvements.

Mara said the levy – which will appear on the ballot as Issue 22 - could do a lot more that is not laid out in the ballot language.

“They decided to be selective in the ballot language and mention only things like lighting and safety, which the voters will find attractive,” Mara told WVXU after the hearing. “They’ve stayed away from controversial things like restaurants and beer gardens in city parks, which will result in ‘no’ votes on this levy.”

But three members of the board voted unanimously to reject the complaint of Mara and the lawyer he was representing before the board, Don Mooney, who was out of town.

The board was told by its attorney, assistant county prosecutor Dave Stevenson, that the original ballot language submitted by the city was rejected by the Ohio Secretary of State, which must sign off on ballot language. Stevenson and city lawyers worked together on a revised version and it was approved by the office of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Mara said the ballot issue would allow the mayor to veto projects proposed by the city park board. But assistant city solicitor Andrew Garth said the ballot issue’s language “is very plain” in saying 75 percent of the annual revenue generated by the levy must be used in a capital program recommended by the mayor and approved by the park board.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley led a petition initiative drive that collected far more than the 5,969 valid signatures of Cincinnati voters needed to place the issue on the ballot. If passed, the tax would become part of the city charter and raise an estimated $5.2 million a year. It would cost $35 for every $100,000 of property value.

Elections board member Alex Triantafilou said Monday the issue had already been settled by the Secretary of State.

“I don’t think our job is to get into fights over ballot language,’’ Triantafilou said. “The two sides can do that during the fall campaign.”

Elections board chairman Tim Burke recused himself from the discussion and the vote because one of the employees of his law office was involved in drafting the language.

Mara said opponents of Issue 22 would meet Thursday night to begin putting together a campaign to fight the measure this fall.  

This is the ballot language for Issue 2 as approved Monday by the board of elections: