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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 21, 2006

Here we go again

Petition filed to force November vote on Cincinnati human rights ordinance

Cincinnati--An anti-gay group hoping to repeal the city�s new human rights ordinance has filed a petition to get the process started.

Petitioners, led by Citizens for Community Values president Phil Burress, presented the city�s finance director Joe Gray with hundreds of sheets late on April 14, a quarter-hour short of the 30day deadline from the measure�s passage last month.

Burress and CCV are the same people that forced the removal of �sexual orientation� from the original human rights ordinance 13 years ago, with an initiative to pass city charter Article 12. The article prohibited the city from protecting gays, lesbians or bisexuals. It was repealed by voters in 2004, clearing the way for the new ordinance.

Burress, who is behind almost every anti-gay effort in Ohio, also led the unsuccessful campaign to keep the article.

The latest petition is not for a charter amendment. Instead, it seeks a referendum to repeal the new ordinance.

Filing the petition stops the measure from becoming law unless voters uphold it on November 7.

According to the city�s receipt for the petition, �over 1,400 part-petitions [pages] containing over 14,000 signatures� were presented. To cause a referendum, 7,654 registered Cincinnati voters must sign, ten percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election four years ago.

Citizens to Restore Fairness chair Gary Wright said he obtained copies of the petition and was charged for 1,592 pages, each holding up to ten signatures. His group led the campaign to repeal Article 12.

The new ordinance amended the city�s human rights code, adding �sexual orientation or transgendered status� to a list of factors for which discrimination is prohibited. It passed city council March 15 by a vote of 81, with almost no organized opposition.

Before it passed, Burress, of suburban West Chester, threatened in newspapers and on talk radio to go to the voters again if it did.

At the time, Wright said Burress was expected to make a repeal attempt, and that the matter would not have gone forward if proponents didn�t believe voters would sustain it.

Three named as petitioners

Three individuals are named on the pages to represent the petitioners and the campaign to defeat the ordinance. Two are familiar anti-gay activists associated with CCV, the third is new.

Rev. K.Z. Smith has been involved in attempts to deny LGBT equality in Cincinnati since 1993, as has Mark W. Miller. Both have been principal players in Burress� enterprises, and Miller has brought lawsuits on behalf of those efforts. Smith was paid $8,773 as a �consultant� in the campaign to keep Article 12.

The new actor is Darrell E. Shelton, a street demonstrator who pushed for the re-election of George W. Bush, and the lone amendment opponent at the city council meeting when it passed.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman, Jr. is also involved, and assisted CCV vice president David Miller with filing the petitions. Brinkman is also suing Miami University for Burress, in an attempt to use the Ohio�s constitutional marriage ban amendment to end the school�s domestic partner benefits.

It is not yet clear which of Burress� enterprises will run the referendum campaign, but Wright said Citizens to Restore Fairness will run the campaign to keep the ordinance.

Half of sample signatures were good

Wright believes Burress hired paid signature-gatherers and said the petition forms will be inspected for authenticity and possible challenges.

Hamilton County Board of Elections director John Williams said a sample of the petitions was submitted for pre-qualification.

�We looked at maybe a thousand signatures,� said Williams, �and the percentage of good ones was in the 50s.�

He added that the board stopped looking at the signatures because it is busy with May 2 primary election duties.

Williams said the petitions will stay at the city finance office for public inspection until April 24, then will be sent to the board to verify the signatures.

�But that won�t start until long after the primary election,� he said. �We just don�t have time to get to them right away.�

Williams does not believe petitioners get a �cure� period to gather more signatures if they are found not to have enough, as is the case when putting initiatives on the ballot.

�The law says they have 30 days to collect signatures when it�s a referendum,� he said. �I�m not aware of a cure.�

Williams said that if there are enough signatures, the city solicitor will draft ballot language, which will ultimately be approved by the Ohio Secretary of State--Burress ally and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell.

The ordinance will be on the ballot for voters to approve, as council did.

�The vote [to support it] is Yes,� said Wright.

Wright said CRF will need to spend at least $750,000 and win 58,000 voters to pass the ordinance.

The group will use the same voter identification and media strategy it used to repeal Article 12, beginning by talking to voters as they leave the polls on May 2.

�We have about 20,000 voters identified with us already,� said Wright.

Issue 3, which repealed Article 12, passed 65,082 to 55,934, or 54 percent to 46 percent.

�We expect [Burress] to come in with millions of dollars from hidden donors and distort the truth like they did last time,� said Wright.

Wright and former Cincinnati mayor Bobbie Sterne are currently involved in legal action against Burress over the failure to disclose where the money for his 2004 Article 12 campaign came from.

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