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Sloppy Work on Referendum

By Gregory Flannery · September 26th, 2007 · Porkopolis
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  This statue of the Franciscan patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, is coming to Over-the-Rhine
Rev. Jack Wintz

This statue of the Franciscan patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, is coming to Over-the-Rhine



If their Hamilton County experience is any indication, it's no wonder the people trying to get a statewide referendum to overturn a state law restricting strip clubs are falling short of their goal. The "Vote No on Issue 1" campaign, a coalition of strip club owners and dancers, was informed earlier this month by state election officials that about two out of every three signatures it had gathered on petitions in heavily populated urban counties were deemed invalid.

Referendum supporters initially submitted about 400,000 signatures by Labor Day and need 244,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot. Although it's common for many petition efforts to find about half of their signatures deemed invalid and thrown out, the rate for the Issue 1 campaign is much higher. For example, the validity rates were just 33 percent in Cuyahoga County, near Cleveland, and just 26 percent in Franklin County, near Columbus.

Locally, the campaign had similar problems. Officials at the Hamilton County Board of Elections say the petitions submitted were of poor quality and had numerous errors. Of the 53,315 signatures submitted, only 13,510 were deemed valid.

"The quality of these petitions is generally very poor," says John Williams, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. "They were about the worst we've ever seen for a statewide issue."

Among the problems, the circulators of the petitions often signed statements attesting or "witnessing" that there were a certain number of signatures on a petition, but the actual number of signatures was different.

In such cases, the entire petition must be thrown out, Williams says.

"It's not all bad signatures," he says. "Some were bad petitions. As a circulator, you cannot witness fewer signatures than what's on your petition."

In fact, of the 34,492 signatures that were deemed invalid, 5,313 were on petitions that were thrown out due to inaccurate witness statements from circulators.

Williams declined comment on rumors the board is investigating some circulators for submitting fraudulent signatures. A call to the county prosecutor's office wasn't returned by deadline. (In the interest of full disclosure, we should note that the Craig Group -- a public relations and marketing firm that's helping collect signatures -- rents office space from a CityBeat-linked company.)

The referendum effort seeks to repeal the Community Defense Act, a law passed earlier this year by state legislators. Pushed by Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV), it enacted statewide regulations that limit the hours of operation for strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses and imposed a "no-touching" rule between workers and customers. The latter restriction, CCV says, is "aimed at specifically putting an end to the prostitution (alias 'lap dancing'), which is the mainstay of many sex clubs."

The campaign had 10 business days to submit additional signatures after the ruling earlier by the Ohio Secretary of State this month. No ruling has yet been made on those signatures.

Some Are Saints, Then There's Heimlich
Franciscan friars have been living and working in Over-the-Rhine for 165 years. One part of the Franciscan ministry is Saint Anthony Messenger Press, one of the nation's largest publishers of Catholic spirituality resources. Soon neighbors passing the publishing house's office will have a new reminder of the Franciscans' inspiration: a bronze, hand-sculpted statue of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The 400-pound, six-foot statue will be installed Sept. 27 on a west building ledge facing West Liberty Street. Saint Anthony Messenger Press commissioned local sculptor Loyola Walter to create the statue, which was cast at Bright Foundry in Louisville.

"Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the best known saints in Christian history," says the Rev. Daniel Kroger, CEO of Saint Anthony Messenger Press. "We are delighted to have a visual representation of a saint popular even beyond the Christian world -- one who is remembered for touching the hearts of people in his era through his humble lifestyle of service and example."

What's this? A bit of truth has crept into Phil Heimlich's campaign. Heimlich, a former Hamilton County Commissioner challenging U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt in next year's GOP primary, issued a statement Sept. 23 about the war in Iraq. It contained this observation: "Iraq has been seriously damaged after five years of warfare. America must accept its share of responsibility for this and pledge not to leave the Iraqi people without a working infrastructure and a reasonable level of personal security."

Where Heimlich goes wrong is in arguing that the United States -- which invaded and destroyed Iraq -- should keep troops there. That's rather like saying the German army, after invading and destroying Poland, should have stayed and prettied things up.

Want peace? The first step is to remove the invading army. That's us.

For more reporting on improvements in Over-the-Rhine and errors of logic by Republican politicians, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at blogs.citybeat.com/Porkopolis.



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