March 15th, 2015
The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas overturned the people of Broadview Heights’ Community Bill of Rights Charter Amendment banning fracking, for now.
Residents spoke very clearly in November 2012, when they passed their Bill of Rights by 67%. They deserve a defense of their charter amendment based on the protection of the peoples’ inalienable community rights to local self-governance, and clean air and water.
However, the City chose not to make such a defense. Instead, our local government agreed with the corporate plaintiffs that state law authorizing corporate harms supersedes community rights. The defense was based on an agreement that the state is within its authority to preempt local law – even when that local law protects the community’s health, safety, and welfare.
According to Bass Energy President William Hlavlin, in an article published in The Broadview Journal in September 2014, “What the city says we are not allowed to do deprives us of our rights …. We aren’t suing for damages, we are just suing for the right to do what we do….. We feel the city is denying our rights. We have a permit from the state…. We just want to finish our project and leave.”
The judge, in this case agrees with the drilling company president that drilling companies have more “rights” than the people of Broadview Heights. Based on the City’s defense, apparently the City did as well.
MADION (Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhoods) recognized that state preemptive law would soon be used to strike down rights-based protections in their City Charter. Seeing this imminent violation of the people’s right of local community self-government, MADION, on behalf of the people of Broadview Heights, filed a class action lawsuit in December 2014 to prevent this constitutional violation from occurring. That case is ongoing.
“We are currently working with Broadview Heights residents on their class action lawsuit. Unlike the City, we will be advancing the peoples’ constitutional right to local self-governance over corporate claimed “rights” to drill or otherwise cause harm,” said Terry Lodge, attorney representing MADION.
Tish O’Dell, MADION organizer, said “We now see that at least one Court is not prepared to uphold our right to protect our health and safety. Instead, the Court prohibited our City from protecting us. If no branch of our government is going to protect us from these corporate harms, then our government has ceased to be legitimate.”
While the City’s defense and the court’s ruling are disappointing, they are not unexpected. In fact, the history of people’s movements shows us that when it comes to protecting rights, our state and federal governments – and sometimes even our own local governments – will try to block us when the protection of our rights would interfere with powerful corporate interests and wealth.
However, such barriers to the expansion of rights violate a founding principle of our country – the consent of the governed – which is grounded in our Declaration of Independence: Government exists to secure the people’s life, liberty, safety, and happiness.
O’Dell explains, “Only when growing numbers of people and communities refuse to accept the status quo and the denial of rights, and instead insist on recognizing and expanding rights, will laws change. We may have to protect our rights the same way people like Susan B. Anthony did: She voted, despite it being illegal, because she knew she had an inalienable right to do so. Today, the Court says it is against the law for us to protect our health and safety. We must protect our health and safety anyway, because we know we have an inalienable right to do so!”
Broadview Heights is one of the leading communities to advance community rights in Ohio. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which offered to defend the Bill of Rights and was declined by the City, hopes that the city will join with the residents in their class action lawsuit – this time assisting with the defense based on people’s rights, rather than aligning with the corporate plaintiffs’ claim that the City has been legitimately stripped of authority to govern the community to protect community rights.
The people have read the Mayor’s recent comments in the media that he is against residential drilling in the City’s neighborhoods. If he and council are inclined to back those words up with action, then residents and CELDF would welcome them to join us.