Athens and Medina County residents vow to continue fighting for right to initiative, right to ban fracking
Broadview Heights, OH: Last week, Athens and Medina County resident submitted petitions to place community rights county charter initiatives on the November ballot, well exceeding the required number of signatures. Through the proposed charters, community members are asserting their right to local community self-government, and their right to safeguard their counties from fracking activities and infrastructure. The charters codify specific rights, such as clean air and water, and ban fracking projects as a violation of those rights.
Boards of Elections in both counties swiftly moved to block the measures yesterday. The Ohio state constitution specifies that the people of Ohio have the right to alter or reform their government, and recognizes the right of the people to establish county charters. The Boards of Elections disregarded the state constitution, and cited the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) to justify blocking the measures from the ballot.
This is the third year the county residents have duly qualified their charter initiatives. With each attempt, residents find their own government elevating the ORC – written by the corporate state legislature – above the people’s state constitution.
Fracking projects threaten counties across Ohio. In Athens, wastewater injection wells place communities at risk for earthquakes and threaten water sources. In Medina, the Nexus pipeline and compressor station project places communities at risk for leaks, explosions, and polluted air and water.
In 2015, residents requested the support of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) as they organized to protect themselves and local ecosystems from fracking. In both 2015 and 2016, oil and gas industry allies at local Boards of Elections, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and the Ohio Supreme Court blocked the county charter measures based on content and technicalities. While the Court did not allow content to be the criteria for qualification, it created technical justifications to keep the measures off the ballot. However, the Court neglected to provide clear guidelines for future attempts.
Athens and Medina County residents are determined to exercise their right to initiative and to protect their communities from fracking. Working again to advance rights, last week Athens County submitted 2,445 signatures (1,441 are required). Medina County submitted 6,494 signatures (4,814 are required).
Kathie Jones of Medina County stated, “The right to alter or reform our own government is enshrined in our state constitution. How can we alter or reform our government, when that same government tells us we are disallowed from altering or reforming it? The absurdity only makes sense when we look at who objects to our charters: the oil and gas industry allies in our own Boards of Elections, and as seen the last two years in Secretary of State Husted. The false veneer of democracy is exposed.”
Tish O’Dell, Ohio CELDF Organizer added, “For three years, these communities have determined to advance rights and create the county government they envisioned. In that time, almost 50,000 signatures have been gathered – signatures of people seeking to vote on their own charter. It’s unsurprising that the corporate state will do anything to keep charters that threaten the oil and gas industry by giving the people a voice in decision making off the ballot.”
Athens and Medina residents are determining next steps, and plan to challenge the actions of the Boards of Elections.
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, where other localities are advancing similar measures to establish and protect their rights to a healthy climate, clean air and water, and the right to local community self-government.
Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance these 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.
Additional InformationFor additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 FundThe 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.