Residents in Three Counties Take Fight for Democratic Rights to Ohio Supreme Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, OHIO: Today, residents of Athens, Meigs, and Portage Counties filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted (SOS) and their county Boards of Elections. The SOS and Boards blocked citizen-sponsored charter initiatives from the November ballot. The three county charter initiatives were proposed by community members to secure local control over what happens in their communities, and to protect people and the environment from the harms associated with oil and gas drilling projects proposed in their counties.
This is a repeat of what the SOS attempted last summer, claiming the authority to “rule” on the legality and constitutionality of proposals submitted by the people. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the SOS authority to be judge and jury in these matters.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been working with county residents since 2014. Residents requested help as fracking, injection wells and pipelines threaten clean air, clean water and people. CELDF assisted citizen groups in each county to draft the county charters – securing environmental and democratic rights, and prohibiting fracking activities that would violate those rights – in accordance with the Court’s requirements.
In July, the three county Boards of Elections voted to block the proposed charters, though each had sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The citizen groups filed protests with the SOS. On August 15, the SOS rejected their protests, blocking the measures from a vote of the people.
Medina County residents filed their lawsuit against the SOS and their local election board on August 15. The Farm Bureau, the County Commissioner Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the State Chamber of Commerce, and the Wadsworth and Medina Chambers of Commerce all filed briefs with the court against the people’s right to vote on the charters.
“Secretary Husted has set himself up as Ohio’s censorship goalie,” said Terry Lodge, co-legal counsel for the county residents. “If the ‘wrong’ idea comes up for a vote, he alone can cancel the election. If the Ohio Supreme Court okays this arrangement, look for every future referendum that involves people vs. corporations to disappear through the Husted Loophole.”
CELDF’s Ohio Organizer, Tish O’Dell, explained, “The right of initiative was designed to protect the people’s right to make law without having to receive approval or be interfered with by government. Secretary of State Husted, however, has determined that he is empowered to interfere with that right as he attempts to protect the oil and gas industry from the democratic decisions of the people of Ohio.”
Since 2012, Ohio communities have been protecting themselves from fracking through CELDF-drafted Community Bills of Rights. Yellow Springs, Oberlin, Athens City and Broadview Heights adopted Community Bills of Rights laws in the last few years. These local laws codify community rights to self-governance and a healthy environment, and the rights of nature to exist and flourish – while prohibiting frack activities as a violation of those rights.
Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement
Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States. Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable.
For additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit ohcommunityrights.org. To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit www.celdf.org.
About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.