The Democratic primary ballot for the Ward 3 Ann Arbor city council race will now include Bob Dascola, in addition to Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. That’s the result of a ruling from federal district judge Lawrence Zatkoff – in a lawsuit filed by Dascola against the city of Ann Arbor: The city cannot bar Dascola from the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary ballot based on city charter eligibility requirements that were ruled null and void in the early 1970s.
At issue were city charter durational requirements on voter registration and residency – that require city councilmembers to be registered to vote in the city and to be a resident of the ward they want to represent for at least a year prior to taking office.
Dascola contended he met the residency requirement, but conceded that he fell short of the voter registration requirement. He did not register to vote in the city until Jan. 15, 2014. Dascola submitted sufficient signatures to qualify, so the impact of the ruling is that Dascola will appear on the Ward 3 ballot.
Dascola was represented in the case by local attorney Tom Wieder.
Both of the Ann Arbor city charter requirements were ruled unconstitutional, null and void in federal cases from the early 1970s. But the city of Ann Arbor sought to enforce those charter requirements against Dascola based on subsequent decisions on eligibility requirements in other jurisdictions in the intervening period. Those included an Ann Arbor case in 2002 (Wojack v. City of Ann Arbor) that resulted in a finding by the local state circuit court upholding the residency requirement. But that finding came only after Republican Scott Wojack was allowed on the Ward 1 city council ballot – a race he did not win. Wojack’s attorney was Tom Wieder.
Based on subsequent case law and a shifted standard of judicial review, one-year durational requirements of the kind that the Ann Arbor city charter includes would almost certainly be found constitutional, if the 1970s cases were to be litigated today. But the May 20, 2014 ruling by Zatkoff found Dascola’s argument convincing: That in order for the city to enforce the charter requirements – which had been found unconstitutional, null and void in separate rulings in 1971 – it would have needed to re-enact those requirements.
From the opinion: “Plaintiff [Dascola] has provided compelling evidence that Defendants [the city of Ann Arbor] have used void provisions of the Charter in an attempt to preclude him from running for City Council. Further, remedies available at law would not compensate Plaintiff for his inability to run for City Council. Finally, as established above, the balance of hardships between the parties – and the public interest at large – warrant this Court enjoining Defendants from enforcing a void law when the City has failed to re-enact that law.” [Dascola v. City of A2: Opinion] [Dascola v. City of A2: Judgment]
That means all the Aug. 5, 2014 ballots for partisan primaries for Ann Arbor mayor and city council are finally set. On the non-partisan side, Bryan Kelly took out petitions for city council in Ward 1, but was informed by the city that he did not meet the charter’s durational eligibility requirements. The ruling on the Dascola case would clear the way for Kelly to run. And as an independent, he’d have until July 17 to submit signatures. But in responding to an emailed Chronicle query, he indicated that he’s content with the representation of Ward 1 on the city council, saying they are “good people,” and he is no longer contemplating running at this time.
The city does have the option to appeal the ruling, but council sources indicate that is not probable. More likely is that the council would vote to place a charter amendment on the ballot this fall so that voters could ratify some set of eligibility requirements. The May 20 ruling from Zatkoff permanently enjoins the city from enforcing either of the former charter requirements prior to re-enacting them.
The background of the case and a review of the opinion are presented below, as well as the complete set of briefings from the case.