WHEELING - Accusations of forgery, multiple lawsuits and counter suits and the legal definition of the term "affidavit" all came into play as two Wheeling residents sought an election to overturn a law that requires two city police officers to ride in every cruiser on patrol.
When George Jones and William Hefner presented a petition regarding Wheeling's two-officer per cruiser mandate to City Council this summer, little did they realize the quagmire that would ensue.
"I am really frustrated with council over this. ... But I would say the whole thing has been worthwhile," Jones said. "We are still hoping to get this on the ballot."
Photo by Casey Junkins
Wheeling residents William Hefner, left, and George Jones presented the petitions for an election to rescind the two-officer per cruiser mandate.
The controversy began in July, when City Clerk Janice Jones certified 2,469 signatures collected by George Jones and Hefner to Wheeling City Council. Janice Jones originally rejected the petitions because the collectors did not meet the minimum number of signatures. In August, council voted unanimously to accept the signatures in preparation for a city-wide election on the 1972 ordinance mandating two police officers to ride in each cruiser.
City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth immediately filed suit against George Jones in an effort to hold the election in May, rather than within 90 days as the City Charter mandates. Wheeling's Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 38, then claimed some of the signatures were forged or not properly witnessed. This prompted Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht to allow the FOP to intervene in the original lawsuit.
FOP attorney Joseph John claimed Janice Jones and council should not have accepted the signatures because George Jones and Hefner did not adhere to the City Charter. John and the FOP said some of the signatures were forged or improperly collected.
George Jones and Hefner then sought dismissal from the case, claiming city officials knowingly accepted the petition without adhering to the requirements of Charter Section 81 dealing with affidavits. Regarding petitions submitted to the city, the charter states "... there shall be attached thereto the affidavit of the circulator thereof stating that each signature was made in the circulator's presence. ..."
Recht ultimately declared the petitions invalid because he determined they lacked the proper affidavits. Prior to Recht's decision, Humway-Warmuth tried to get George Jones and Hefner to sign affidavits - after the city had accepted the petition. George Jones declined, noting that Recht said signing the affidavits "after the fact" would not be sufficient.
The FOP then sued the city for up to $400 per hour in legal fees for accepting the petition. Recht is scheduled to hear this matter at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 19.
During a recent council meeting, George Jones asked members to take a stand on the two-officer per cruiser matter, while requesting they place the issue on the ballot by their own action.
Councilman Don Atkinson expressed support for allowing residents to decide the issue, and Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey congratulated the signature collectors for their hard work. Mayor Andy McKenzie and Councilman James Tiu did not pick a side on the matter, but Councilmen Vernon Seals and Robert "Herk" Henry reinforced their opposition to removing the requirement. Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge also opposes changing the 1972 law.
Though not certain of his next move, George Jones does not seem willing to simply let the issue fade away.
"We are planning to do something, but we are not quite sure what just yet," he said of himself and Hefner. "This really needs to get on the ballot before the voters, one way or another."