Deciphering Democracy in Cuyahoga Falls
Vol. 4: Referendums
Tom Sullivan, 12-12-2019

A referendum petition may be put together in the event that plastic flamingos are suddenly required in all yards in Cuyahoga Falls.
Bart Sullivan
Tom Sullivan has been a fixture in the Falls community since 1978. He has served on several city committees and commissions, is a community organizer, and when needed can be “season ticket holder” to Monday night city council meetings.

Picture this: it’s the not-too-distant future, and our city council, worried by threats of a lawsuit by the owner of a local flamingo lawn ornament factory, have passed an ordinance requiring all residents to display a minimum of four of these delightful plastic creatures in their front yards or face fines of up to $200 if they refuse.

The councilors claim that their hands are tied after last month’s affirmative vote requiring concrete dinosaur statues be displayed by all residents living on corner lots. They must cave to the evil Don Featherstone, owner of Union Products Plastic Co., manufacturer of the famous flamingo, who has made major campaign contributions to many members of city council so they can’t vote no. He owns them.

What are we, as a city, to do?

Luckily, our city hasn’t forgotten its hardworking residents in the city charter, and it is they who immediately begin to put a referendum into motion.

The first thing they need to do is organize themselves and put together a referendum petition rejecting this silly ordinance. Next, they must form a committee and start collecting signatures, keeping in mind that only registered voters in the city may circulate the petition, which virtually eliminates professional assistance with the campaign. Such assistance would be useful in challenging Big Flamingo, but hey, it’s the law. Anyway, it’s not that daunting a task, considering you only need to collect signatures from a minimum of 10% of those who voted in the last election, but all of this has to be done within 30 days of council’s vote requiring the flamingos. Should the group find that they have valid signatures from more than 20% of the voters, then they gain a little more power—with this many signatures, the matter will go before voters in 90 days, bypassing council.

So, our committee has been diligent and made the 30-day deadline, submitting their signatures to the Clerk of Council requesting that the law either be repealed or put on the ballot to let the voters decide. From there, the Clerk will begin the task of verifying the signatures. Once that is complete—like it or not—city council has 30 days from the receipt of the petition to reconsider and repeal this aesthetic blunder before it falls to voters to decide, at which point council can either schedule a date for a special election or allow it to be voted on in the next general election. In the meantime, nobody will be required to buy any flamingos.

That’s how it works for almost every law our council passes, and, with few exceptions, the whole pink wave stops until the voters have spoken. However, sometimes an ordinance will be read into the record “declaring an emergency,” which forces the legislation into effect immediately. Still, even if Don Featherstone has greased the right palms to include this language, residents still have the right to put it up for referendum, but emergency measures take effect as soon as the mayor signs off on city council's vote. Meanwhile, he could care less—you have to buy flamingos.

This could all happen someday in the future—flamingos or otherwise—so have your clipboard and a pair of walking shoes ready. Either way, it’s a good thing our founding fathers and mothers left this tidbit for us to change things should they get out of control.

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