Time to end the recall

Time to end the recall

January 6th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The appeal by 10 local business and community leaders seeking an end to the effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield, printed in this newspaper yesterday, makes a cogent argument for finally dropping the recall initiative altogether. Their letter argues, accurately, that the recall initiative harms the city's image at both a national and international level, undermining our economic progress at a critical time. It causes uncertainty. And it distracts the city's leadership and focus from more critical needs, while imposing needless court cost on taxpayers.

These are all good reasons to drop the recall. Indeed, it was an irrational and sparsely supported fringe effort over necessary fiscal policies that never should have been grounds for a recall to begin with.

Beyond that, however, there are compelling legal issues which demand dismissal of the recall move. We are hopeful that will occur next week after a second hearing in Circuit Court before Judge Jeff Hollingsworth.

Judge Hollingsworth previously ruled, in September, 2010, that the recall petitions -- there are actually three different ones -- were fatally flawed in several respects under prevailing state law. His ruling, unfortunately, was recently set aside by an appeals court on the basis that it was issued prematurely; that is, before the Hamilton County Election Commission had officially acted to accept the petitions and certify a recall of the mayor.

The appeals court, however, mysteriously failed to take into account the trial court evidence that the Election Commission, admittedly and wrongly, had already been accepting copies of the petitions despite the petitioners' failure to comply with the state's uniform legal standards for recall petitions. These standards demand specific questions on certified petitions, and they demand that voter signatures be verified against the roles of registered voters, and dated by the signers. Election commission officials blithely, wrongly, waived compliance with those rules. And they have never explained why, or been held to account for their laxity.

The election commission's partisan Republican majority, moreover, had also declared -- before Judge Hollingsworth's initial injunction -- that it would certify the petitions as they were, and set a date for election of a new mayor, even if the numbers of signatures on the petitions amounted to the lower total required by the city's flawed recall ordinance (nearly 9,000) -- and not the 15,000 demanded by state law. In fact, the mayor's legal team found that fewer than half of the purported 9,000 signatures accepted by the commission actually met state legal standards. Those were sufficient reasons alone to justify the judge's injunction.

The city's recall statute, moreover, failed then, and fails now, to follow the logical three-step process required by state law for recalls: (1) a successful petition for recall; (2) a subsequent ballot for voters to decide whether to recall the targeted official; and, (3) if needed, another an election to pick a successor. The myopic 1990 city statute, by contrast, allows a small minority of the city's body of registered voters to mount a recall petition, which, if certified by the commission, simply demands an election for a successor. It is the ultimate electoral form of the tail wagging the dog. It must be changed to comply with state law.

All these egregious violations of the state's recall law were not even mentioned by Appeals Court Judge John McClarty in his curt paragraph decision to set aside the initial Circuit Court ruling. McClarty's ruling, more notable for its omissions than any insight, simply said that Judge Hollingsworth's injunction blocking the recall was premature because the Election Commission, at that point, had not yet certified the recall; thus it yet had no jurisdiction to issue an injunction.

Now the commission has acted, wrongly. And now it's time -- past time -- to put an end to the recall, at last.