Civil case over citizen initiative, referendum process dismissed


Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2019 10:17:36 PM

GREENFIELD – Al Norman and the city have dismissed a civil suit with prejudice concerning its citizen initiative and referendum process.

The civil suit was filed May 30 in Franklin County Superior Court by Norman.

The civil complaint requested the court do two things — correct an error in the charter or for the city to hold public hearings to pass a new measure that clarifies the citizen initiative and referendum process; and to allow the referendum petition he put forward challenging the March 20 City Council zoning votes to proceed.

Both the city and Norman filed for the voluntary stipulation of dismissal on the case Nov. 23.

“With prejudice” means the case will not be able to be appealed, according to Mark Smith, director of general administration for the mayor’s office.

“When this is dismissed by both parties, it’s a good thing,” Smith said. “Our counsel, with Mr. Norman, was able to resolve this.”

Smith added, “This is a positive story where in terms of realizing what is best for the community is taken into account and where both parties can agree to dismiss the case without having to spend time and money.”

Norman said when he filed the civil suit in May, he was not seeking a long-term suit with the city.

According to the timeline from the court, the case would have gone until March 2022. “I didn’t want to be embraced in a legal suit for three years,” Norman said.

Norman filed a citizen’s referendum petition after the March 20 council vote that removed zoning laws from a majority of the French King Highway corridor overlay district in exchange for a vote to approve the library project. His intention was to pause the zoning change and send it to the ballot box for a citywide vote in November.

However, the city ruled Norman’s petition was invalid and later noted the process had changed following a tweak to the charter in 2017. Norman protested, calling it a clerical error that led to a substantial change in the petition process.

In July, Norman received a response from the city’s attorney.

“The defendant respectfully requests that the court enter judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety and grant the defendant such other relief as the court deems proper, including defendant’s costs and disbursements,” stated the response from Greenfield attorney Layla Taylor of Sullivan, Hayes and Quinn.

Norman said he “wasn’t going to take a chance” on having to pay the city’s legal expenses for years either.

He added that while the case is dismissed, the problems with the charter section on citizen petition referendums and the French King zoning overlay are not going away.

“Something needs to be done about the broken referendum process,” Norman said. “The ‘in a measure’ (which the City Council unanimously approved submitting the three-word change at its November meeting) is only part of it.”

The other problem is that the French King Corridor needs to be repaired, according to Norman.

“We’re on the brink of an important decision on what happens on the outskirts of the town,” Norman said. “I hope the council will take the matter seriously. We’re sitting on dynamite if we don’t do anything.”

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