FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2015
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
MEIGS COUNTY, OH: Frustrated by the efforts of the Meigs County Commissioners to keep residents’ community rights county charter initiative off the November ballot, the Meigs County Home Rule Committee (MCHRC) has sued the Commissioners to force the measure on to the ballot. On July 20, they filed a lawsuit in the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Chillicothe, claiming the Commissioners have illegally refused to take action on the measure in order to block a vote by the people.
Meigs County residents are threatened with fracking wastewater injection wells and a wastewater dock on the Ohio River. Determined to protect themselves, MCHRC partnered with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to draft a community rights county charter. In addition to recognizing the right of county residents to initiative and referendum, the proposed county charter bans fracking infrastructure projects – including injection wells and the planned dock. As well, it empowers the County Commissioners to pass general local laws throughout the unincorporated areas of Meigs County.
However, rather than advancing the will of the people, the Commissioners have persisted in sheer gamesmanship, claim MCHRC members. Days after they filed suit, MCHRC’s lawyers filed a motion for summary judgment and an immediate order requiring the Commissioners to halt all further delays and put the charter proposal to a vote. No decision has as yet been made by the Court.
Throughout the process, the Commissioners have used a number of excuses as to why they couldn’t perform their statutory obligation to place the initiative on the ballot, from falsely claiming deadlines were missed, to making legal interpretations of the charter content – which was clearly outside their authority. In addition, they have mislead their constituents, claiming in an article published in the Pomeroy Daily Sentinelthat they sent a letter to the Board of Elections on July 2nd, advising them of what was needed to advance the initiative. Subsequently they were unable to produce said letter in a public records request.
“What the Meigs County commissioners are doing is anti-democracy and illegal,” said Dennis Sergant of MCHRC. “The voters and taxpayers should understand that they are spending thousands of public dollars to prevent democracy from taking root in Meigs County, and to defend a lawsuit which they are about to lose.”
The people of Meigs County have an inalienable and constitutional right to vote on their own county charter initiative. The actions of the County Commissioners are a blatant attempt to deny that right. Reminiscent of tactics used in Abolitionist, Suffragist, and Civil Rights eras, such attempts to deny rights will be overcome.
“It saddens us – the People of Meigs County – that our own Commissioners are acting against us. Regardless, we are clear: We have a right to vote on our own county charter initiative, and we will not give up that right,” added Bob Berardi, also a member of MCHRC.
Meigs County joins Athens, Fulton, and Medina Counties, in working to advance community rights through county charter initiatives that ban fracking infrastructure projects threatening their communities.
Through grassroots organizing and public interest law, CELDF works with communities across the country to establish Community Rights to democratic, local self-governance and sustainability. CELDF has assisted nearly 200 communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other threats, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights. This includes assisting the first communities in the U.S. to establish the rights of nature in law – as well as assisted Ecuador to draft rights of nature provisions for its constitution in 2008 – as well as the first communities to elevate the rights of communities above the “rights” of corporations.