Judge orders amendment on ballot,
September 20th, 2009
Cheltenham residents had fulfilled the requirements for getting the measure into the November election.
The three-member Montgomery County Election Board exceeded its authority when it refused to place a citizen-sponsored referendum question on the November election ballot because the board believed the content of the question was illegal, according to a county judge.
In a ruling received by the board on Thursday, Judge Kent H. Albright ordered the board to put that amendment - a home rule charter amendment proposed by We the People of Cheltenham - on the ballot.
The ministerial duties of the board, as outlined under state election law, are to determine whether the necessary number of valid signatures has been secured on the petition requesting the referendum and whether the request was filed on time.
There is no provision under the law for the three county commissioners, who make up the election board, to act unilaterally on the content of the referendum question, according to the judge.
However, the judge noted, his ruling does not bar a third-party from challenging the referendum on content of the question.
Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel III, who sits as the board's chairman, said the board will review Albright's decision and make a decision this week on whether to appeal it.
The board previously admitted that the citizens' organization did everything right, gathering sufficient signatures on their petitions and filing the request within the allotted time frame, to allow a proposal to go before township voters to amend the township's home rule charter to give residents more of a say in the development of their community.
This proposed Bill of Rights amendment, in part, would require state-chartered public benefit corporations, such as SEPTA, to take any land development plans they may have to the voters for their approval in a referendum.
The Bill of Rights also states that public and private corporations shall not be considered "persons" when it comes to applying the law and the state and federal Constitutions, thereby eliminating the power of corporations to make the community subordinate to their demands.
The commissioners have said they believe that the provisions in the Bill of Rights are illegal. Not only does the amendment take away a corporation's constitutional rights, it takes away the rights of quasi-public agencies, such as SEPTA, to have municipal officials decide on land development issues as provided for under the state's planning code.
The group sponsoring the amendment was created in response to a proposal by SEPTA to construct a 700-car garage at the Wyncote/Jenkintown train station. Members of the organization said they believed that township officials were not listening to their concerns about the project.