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Citizens for Oakwood Seeks Court Help to Get Issue on Ballot

After a procedural gaffe, the organization has filed with the Ohio Supreme Court to mandate that the City of South Euclid let voters decide whether the former Oakwood Country Club is rezoned for development

Citizens for Oakwood, an organization trying to prevent the development of the former Oakwood Country Club, has filed suit with the Ohio Supreme Court to mandate that the City of South Euclid allow voters to decide whether the property is rezoned for development.

The group collected more than the required amount of signatures and submitted the petition to get a referendum on the November ballot to Keith Benjamin, clerk of council for the City of South Euclid.

South Euclid City Council, which so that developer First Interstate Properties could build there, was ready to forward the petition to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Then First Interstate sent them a letter outlining three reasons it believed the petition was not sufficient Friday, just a few days before the petition was to be submitted. 

Law Director Michael Lograsso said the developer was right about one thing — one of the pre-petition documents . The city was not aware of this, he said.

“To the best of my knowledge, we have followed the same procedure, and until this issue came along and there was a protest that was filed (by First Interstate), obviously the law director made the determination that the procedure was incorrect,” Benjamin said.

Citizens for Oakwood argues that everything else, according to the South Euclid City Charter, was supposed to be handed to Benjamin. The clerk of council is also the person responsible for submitting the paperwork to the Board of Elections.

But the city charter didn’t clarify who should receive that certified copy of the ordinance, said Lograsso, and if city law does not spell out those details, cities are supposed to refer to state law. Under the Ohio Revised Code 731.32, that document should have gone to the city auditor, not the clerk.

The city doesn’t have an auditor, so the document, in the end, should have been handed to the city’s finance director, he said. 

No one would have caught that blip in law and process if First Interstate wouldn’t have pointed it out, Lograsso said.

“The procedure in the past followed the city’s charter,” Benjamin said.

Citizens for Oakwood is hosting a meeting tonight at 7 at the to discuss its campaign to get a referendum on the November ballot.

“We complied with the South Euclid City Charter and the Ohio Revised Code. We’ve complied with the law … what this seems to be is trivializing and being disrespectful of process,” said Fran Mentch, leader of the group. “The citizens of South Euclid said we want a chance to vote on this, and they are being denied that.”

The group is now waiting for the Ohio Supreme Court to review the writ of mandamus it filed, and if the court approves it, South Euclid voters would decide if the property is rezoned. Mentch said they should know by the end of the month.

“Obviously now the issue now is in the courts, and the court will make a decision to whether the issue will go to the ballot or not,” Benjamin said.

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