Voters Could Unite to Overturn Council
Cincinnati City Council took two actions Wednesday that seemed to defy the will of a majority of voters, and the issues might end up as citizen referendums on the November ballot.
Council voted 7-2 Wednesday to indefinitely extend the city’s tougher penalties for marijuana possession and also voted 6-3 to close a public hillside stairway in East Walnut Hills that is frequently used by neighborhood residents.
Only Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell and Councilman David Crowley opposed the tougher marijuana penalties, and Councilwoman Laketa Cole joined the pair in opposing the closure of the stairway.
A citizen group is organizing to force a voter referendum on the marijuana penalties, and another group is considering similar action in an effort to reopen the stairway. In both instances, the residents say council was kowtowing to special interest groups instead of acting in the city’s best interests.
Under Ohio law, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $100 ticket and no jail time. At the urging of Councilman Cecil Thomas, city council changed the local law to make possession of 200 grams or less a first-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of one month in jail and a $250 fine; a second offense entails up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The offense goes onto a person’s criminal record that must be reported when applying for a job or student loan.
Thomas has said the change was needed to reduce the number of people who travel from nearby areas in Kentucky and Indiana to buy pot in Cincinnati and would allow police to more readily conduct full body searches of people they suspect of carrying guns.
But the law’s opponents note that the drop in out-of-state residents buying pot in Cincinnati has been minimal — less than 1 percent — and that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week gives police broad discretion to conduct searches. Further, they add that only 62 handguns were confiscated from the 3,285 people arrested in the past 11 months, during a period when shootings have increased.
Some opponents believe local police have pushed for the law to generate more revenues for the department.
“We plan on putting this on the ballot,” says Lynne Wilson, a radio personality who calls herself the Happy Hemptress.
To qualify for the November ballot, organizers must collect signatures from 10 percent of the electorate who voted in the last city election, or about 7,600 people. The signatures must be submitted to the city within 30 days of council’s vote.
Meanwhile, a group of residents are mulling the same action to reopen the Collins Avenue steps. The steps are part of a city network that trail through many of Cincinnati’s hillsides, mostly built in the early 20th century. This set connects the end of Collins, near William Howard Taft Road, to Keys Crescent.
Keys Crescent contains about 15 upscale homes whose residents say thieves and vandals use the steps as a quick getaway after causing trouble on their street. Many residents on nearby streets counter that the crime problem is grossly exaggerated. The steps are used by children in the East End to catch buses on Madison Road and by other residents to walk to shops in O’Bryonville.
Also, they noted the 40-foot public right-of-way for the steps along a Keys Crescent homeowner’s driveway was bought by Cincinnati for $5,500 in 1915, and the steps have been a city asset in use for almost a century, long before any of the current residents were there.
— Kevin Osborne