Court Creates Unattainable Mandate for People
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer
COLUMBUS, OHIO: Today, the Ohio Supreme Court struck a blow to the people’s constitutional right to use citizen initiative to propose a county charter form of government.
Athens and Medina County residents used citizen initiative to propose a county charter form of government, duly qualifying their measures for the November ballot. Their local Boards of Elections (BOE) blocked the measures, claiming they did not properly specify details related to the government structure. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted residents to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Court refused to place the charters on the ballot. The measures included bans on fracking activities and infrastructure projects.
Communities across Ohio are facing fracking, wastewater injection wells, large volume pipelines, and compressor stations. Finding no remedy in their state or local government, they turned to their constitutional right of initiative to alter and reform government to protect themselves from harm.
Residents requested CELDF’s assistance to safeguard their communities and draft the charters. Their previous efforts to advance county charters in 2015 and 2016 resulted in challenges by industry allies, which went before the state Supreme Court. The Court found technical reasons to keep the measures off the ballot, without providing clear direction on how the measures could be redrafted to meet their requirements.
However, in today’s decision, the Court determined that the “powers and duties” of elected officers must be detailed in the charter, rather than referencing the Ohio Revised Code (ORC). Currently, there are two county charters in Ohio: Summit and Cuyahoga. Neither list each power and duty of every elected officer.
Further, with the General Assembly’s passage of HB 463 last December, BOEs are authorized to block citizen initiatives based on content. Although the Court did not make a specific ruling regarding the constitutionality of HB 463, Justice’s Fischer and O’Neill were clear in their dissent:
“I would hold that the Medina and Athens County Boards of Elections exceeded their authority and thereby abused their discretion in refusing to place the proposed county charters on the ballot. Whether the proposed county charters are constitutional are decisions for the courts, and as we have consistently held, those decisions should be made only after the election, if the measures pass.”
“Today’s decision is indicative of our finding at all levels of government: When the government that is protecting industry profits over ‘we, the people,’ is confronted with the people’s reforms, that government will not allow the reform to go to a vote of the people,” stated Dick McGinn of Athens County.
Lynn Kemp of Medina County added, “The Court has deliberately created an unattainable mandate! In order for us to meet its requirements and include every single power and duty spelled out in the ORC would require a charter and petition that is hundreds, if not thousands, of pages long. They have rendered our constitutional right to propose a county charter meaningless.”
Tish O’Dell, CELDF Ohio Organizer adds, “Of course the Court found on behalf of industry and corporate profits. This is what it means to live in a Corporate State. Any illusion that we live in a democracy is obliterated with this decision. It is clear we need a new system – a new mechanism for the people to legislate and protect their communities from poisons and toxins that benefit greed.“
Initiatives for charter amendments in both Youngstown and Bowling Green have also been kept off the November ballot. They are currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.
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. As the Movement builds, so are efforts to block the right to initiative – such as in Tacoma, WA – and so grows communities’ determination to preserve that right.
Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance and protect 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 email@example.com. To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit ohiocrn.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.