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Ohio Supreme Court again rejects Medina County charter ballot issue

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The Ohio Supreme Court once again has denied a Medina County citizens group’s bid to place a charter government issue on the November ballot.

It marks the third year in a row Sustainable Medina County sought to give voters a say in the county government’s makeup.

The charter would have allowed voters to have local control over environmental issues concerning land, air, water and private property, including the $2 billion NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline.

“We’re disappointed by the overall decision,” said Tish O’Dell, a Broadview Heights organizer of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

The decision is the result of an appeal filed in August by the Pennsylvania-based defense fund and Sustainable Medina County with the Ohio Supreme Court and 9th District Court of Appeals after the Medina County Board of Elections and a visiting Medina County common pleas judge denied ballot certification.

Visiting Judge Peter Handwork, in his denial, said while the charter provided “a detailed list” of duties for county officers under its proposed language, it did “not include all duties of those offices enumerated in the Ohio Revised Code and there is no language in the charter that attempts to incorporate all duties imposed by general law.”

The high court agreed there were technical reasons to keep the measures off the ballot, without providing clear direction on how the measures could be redrafted to meet their requirements.

In its 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. Currently, there are two county charters in Ohio: Summit and Cuyahoga. Their charters list powers and duties of elected officers. Athens County also was denied a charter.

“But we were really encouraged by the judges and their (dissenting) opinions,” O’Dell said. “They agreed that previous decisions by the court have been confusing. They basically said to put it on the ballot, let people vote and we’ll sort out the details later.”

O’Dell cited House Bill 463, which the Legislature passed in December 2016 and gives local boards of elections the authority to block petition initiatives.

Concerning the group’s appeal in the 9th District Court of Appeals, O’Dell said oral arguments from Sustainable Medina County and other citizens groups will be heard at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Akron.

“We really need to get this in front of a court and judges,” O’Dell said. “Who has more rights here? Do people have the rights to protect their rights to govern or do corporations have more rights to come into a community and do harm to the community?”

Initiatives for charter amendments in Youngstown and Bowling Green also have been kept off the November ballot. They are pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.

“It seems like more people have realized that we need to be active and part of a democracy in a meaningful way,” O’Dell said. “People need to start looking and questioning, ‘Do we really believe we’re living in a democracy?’”

Awareness events

Sustainable Medina County, Ohio Community Rights Network and Medina County Together are hosting two events next month to build support for the movement intended to give community leaders more rights than incoming corporations.

An Ohio Communities Rising Tour stop is planned for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Montville Township Administration Building, 6665 Wadsworth Road. The event is free and open to the public.

Keynote speaker Merrily Mazza, a councilwoman from Lafayette, Colo., will talk about her work in placing a charter amendment on the local ballot that established a community bill of rights — like the one Sustainable Medina County has tried to get on the ballot in the county.

“We’re facing unprecedented efforts to quash our right to citizen initiative as we work to drive community rights into law,” Sharon Township resident Kathie Jones, leader of Sustainable Medina County said in a statement. “We’re rising up in the face of those efforts. Merrily Mazza is a local elected official and has faced similar circumstances locally and at the state level. We are thrilled she is coming to Medina to share the Colorado story with us.”

The second event, organized by the Ohio Community Rights Network, is a $50 workshop on protest actions 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14 at Medina Library, 210 S. Broadway St. Cost includes curriculum, lunch and snacks.

Participants will explore why they don’t have the power to establish minimum-wage laws, immigrant and LGBTQ rights; stop injection wells, pipelines, compressor stations; and other issues facing communities.

The workshop will cover issues surrounding the environment, labor and social justice, and what communities are doing to elevate the rights of its residents over the corporate state. Register by Oct. 12 at http://bit.ly/2jPHMEM.

For information, call Kathy Kinstler at (330) 241-9077 or Kathie Jones at (330) 524-4474.

Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or hheironimus@medina-gazette.com.



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