A split Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a state law that invalidates a Cleveland ordinance requiring public works construction projects to hire city residents for 20% of the work. If the construction projects didn’t meet that threshold, the city could cut their contract price by 2.5%.
Four justices agreed with state solicitor Ben Flowers, who argued in March that the Republican-dominated state legislature was correct to nullify Cleveland’s so-called “Fannie Lewis Law,” which was passed by the city’s Democratic city council in 2003.
The Ohio legislature passed a law in 2016 that forbade cities from placing residency requirements on workers employed by contractors doing business with the government. Cleveland sued to overturn it.
Flowers pointed to a previous Supreme Court ruling upholding a ban on cities from requiring employees to be residents, saying the state should protect a worker’s freedom to choose where to live.
“Laws like Fannie Lewis, with a quota, do not because the non-resident is at a disadvantage as to 20% of the labor hours," Flowers told the court.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented, writing that the state law violates the home-rule provision in the Ohio Constitution. The court’s two Democrats, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, joined in that opinion.
Cities have long raised concerns about their local ordinances being overruled by state laws. Quite often, it becomes a clash between Democratic local officials and Republican state lawmakers.
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) says her hometown of Akron went through a similar situation with a local sewer project. She says the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling is wrong.
“We always talk about all politics is local but every time we turn around, it seems like the state legislature is removing power from local governments so at some point, this has to end,” Sykes says. “We have home rule. We have to allow local governments to do the best they need to do to govern effectively.”