Citizen group’s ballot question sparks some controversy,
November 1st, 2009
COURTHOUSE — Cheltenham Township has a ballot question that aims to amend the municipality’s home rule charter with a “Bill of Rights” that recognizes the right to local self-government. In doing so, the citizen group who authored the initiative hopes to legally empower local residents over corporate interests and give them a voice in proposed development in the municipality.
Concerned about proposed SEPTA parking garages in Jenkintown and Wyncote, about 3,000 registered township voters, who became known as We the People of Cheltenham, signed a petition last summer to have a question placed on the November ballot to amend the township’s charter.
“It took about two months to get this written,” said Brooke Welsh, a member of the citizens group.
Welsh said local residents should have the right to veto large development projects that would radically alter the nature of their community.
“The people who live in a place should be able to determine what is built, not corporations,” she said.
On Aug. 20 the Montgomery County Board of Elections voted 3-0 not to allow the question on the ballot; however, We the People of Cheltenham went to Common Pleas Court, and on Sept. 16, a judge ruled in favor of the group, according to the group’s Web site, wethepeopleofcheltenham.com.
On Oct. 7, the citizens approved and finalized the ballot question and submitted it. Two weeks later, the Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners declined to vote on an injunction which would have nullified any votes on the initiative.
The legality of the amendment has been challenged, and critics say even if the ballot question wins on Nov. 3, it will undoubtedly result in a protracted and costly court challenge. However, Welsh is staying with her cause.
“It’s a way to scare people, because people are afraid of lawsuits,” she said. “It’s an easy card to play.”
Welsh said the group gets legal help from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund that aids other similar activist groups.
“We’re not trying to stop anything; we’re trying to be involved in the process,” she said.
The Cheltenham ballot question reads as follows:
Should the Cheltenham Township charter be amended to add a Bill of Rights which recognizes the right to local self-government, asserts that corporations do not have the same rights as people or other constitutional rights nor a right to unearned profits, and that recognizes the right of residents to approve or reject land development proposed by certain corporations known as public benefit corporations?