The members of the Ohio Supreme Court recently announced two separate decisions on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELFD) “Community Bill of Rights” efforts.
The first decision involved the counties of Athens, Medina and Fulton where the CELDF attempted to put an issue on the ballot to move those counties from a statutory form of government, to a charter form of government, with the first charter amendment being their misguided “Community Bill of Rights.” The court ruled that the Secretary of State was correct in not placing these issues on the ballot, as they failed to meet the basic requirement for changing county form of government.
The second decision was regarding the great steel city of Youngstown, who through no fault of its own, have been dealing with the CELDF folks longer than anyone else. In this instance, petitioners were attempting to change the city’s existing charter, not to establish an entirely new form of government. In that decision, the high court reversed the local Mahoning County Board of Election’s unanimous decision that would have kept the issue off of the ballot and instead ruled to place that CELDF issue on the ballot.
The county board of election had justified the decision to keep the issue off of the ballot since the Supreme Court had already ruled in another case that the legislature had enacted laws that oil and gas regulation was to be handled at the state level and local governments couldn’t unfairly impede or discriminate against this activity.
When explaining the decision in this matter, the Ohio Supreme Court indicated that local boards of election can only decide if the procedural requirements had been met when determining whether or not to put an issue on the ballot. This is consistent with the ruling regarding the three county charter amendments as well. Unfortunately, this will simply add to the $50,000 the City of Youngstown has already paid to put this issue on the ballot and which voters have rejected in four previous elections.
In both cases, CELDF screamed that industry “bought” the court; but let’s take a closer look at who filed briefs supporting those cases.
In the first case, involving the three counties, the Ohio County Commissioner’s Association, the Ohio Farm Bureau, Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce all filed briefs opposing the CELDF’s charters.
In the second case, involving Youngstown, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce and Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio along with 17 different local labor unions all filed briefs to oppose the charter amendment.
So did all of those groups “buy” the court as well?
These groups represent thousands of hard working, land owning, bi-partisan, citizens in Ohio who all stood together to say enough is enough. Yet when you read some of the comments from the CELDF folks, they are shouting victory claims that they now have a blueprint to push their agenda forward. Never mind the fact that a small group of loosely connected activists think they know better than the elected, business, and community leaders in all of these areas who came together to defend their communities from this out of touch (and out of state) organization.
In talking with members of each of these communities one thing is clear, no matter how CELDF rewords or tweaks language to put on the ballot, there are people who will fight for their land, neighborhoods and communities and continue to say no to this small minority of activists trying to dictate what they can do.
For a more detailed legal analysis of the two Ohio Supreme Court decisions, please read the article by: Lisa Babish Forbes and Aaron M. Williams of Vorys, Sater Seymour and Pease LLP in the October edition of the Bulletin.