Appalachian Basin

It’s Groundhog Day for ‘Community Bill of Rights’ in Ohio: Same Failure, Over and Over Again

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s (CELDF) tactics continue to play out a lot like the movie “Groundhog Day” in Ohio, as the anti-fracking group’s efforts to push so-called Community Bill of Rights charter amendments on communities keep failing in eerily similar fashions. Adding to a long string of defeats for CELDF in the Buckeye State, two separate courts last week decided Community Bill of Rights ballot measures would not be permitted on the November ballot in Athens and Media counties.

Ohio communities have clearly had just about enough of CELDF’s antics, as evidenced by a recent editorial from the Athens News headlined “No Matter Who Rejects It, County Charter is Seriously Flawed.” Terry Smith writes the following in the piece,

No court in Ohio has shown sympathy for the Bill of Rights-type legal argument – that local citizens have a constitutional right to pass laws to protect their own health and welfare, as well as their natural resources. The courts have cited state regulations involving oil and gas drilling, claiming that those rules are designed to protect citizens and resources while allowing a legal industrial use to proceed. The resulting debate isn’t some high-falutin’ constitutional argument about the inalienable rights of man, but rather a quotidian back-and-forth over whether the state’s regulation of oil and gas development is sufficient to protect citizens’ health and welfare while allowing drilling. Unlike local governments that are trying to block fracking and injection wells, the state starts with the assumption that oil and gas development and production are legal industrial uses in Ohio, and that in order to allow this activity to proceed, the state must have a uniform system for permitting and regulating it. You may disagree with that idea but so far Ohio courts haven’t seen that assumption as being controversial or constitutional.” (Emphasis added)

The editorial was crafted in response to the fact that the Athens County Board of Elections voted unanimously to keep the Community Bill of Rights charter amendment off the November ballot, citing the petitions as “invalid.” Shortly after, CELDF’s notoriously unsuccessful lawyer, Terry Lodge, quickly protested the board’s decision by filing an appeal Athens County Common Pleas Court. The judge upheld the Board of Election’s decision, and therefore the measure will not be placed on the November ballot. That is unless CELDF decides on another frivolous legal attempt to again challenge the matter with Ohio Secretary of State.

The latter is certainly a possibility, considering that after the Athens County Board of Elections ruled last year that the petitions were invalid, CELDF and their lawyer skipped the common pleas court completely and went straight to the Ohio Secretary of State, where they were rejected.  Similar strategies were also attempted (and failed) in 2015 as well. Undeterred, CELDF tries each year to sucker the public by tweaking its petitions slightly to try to advance its agenda.

Within days of the Athens debate, the same casts of characters took their roadshow to northeast Ohio where the exact playbook has yielded the same results and epic failure (yet again).

Ironically, within days of the Athens debate, the anti-fracking activist traversed 185 miles (using a fossil fuel vehicle) to Medina County in northeast Ohio, where CELDF continued its string of defeats and frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to try to manipulate Ohio laws and place unenforceable measures on local ballots.

Similar to Athens County, Medina County has also been a victim of year-after-year attempts of a Community Bill of Rights charter amendment.  And like Athens County, the Medina County Board of Elections also voted to keep the measure off the November ballot for a third straight year. Medina County residents were pleased to learn of this news as evidence by county commissioner Adam Fredrick’s statement,

“I’m standing up for property owners’ rights when I say the petition is bad. People have the right to extract minerals on their land. They have that right without the threat of being sued. I care more about private property owners’ rights than the folks who are behind the petition.”

However, shortly after the Medina County Board of Elections decided to throw the measure off the ballot, none other than CELDF’s own Tish O’Dell and Lodge cried foul and ran to protest the matter with the Medina Court of Common Pleas. After that move failed again, the duo took the case onward and upward to — you guessed it — the Ohio Secretary of State.  As the Medina Gazette reported,

“After the vote, they gathered outside the board offices to hear their attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, discuss their next move.”

And although these Groundhog Day-esque Community Bill of Rights ballot measures in Athens and Medina counties are becoming comical, when you think about it, the cost to taxpayers and time wasted in the courtroom on these matters is starting to become a real concern and financial burden to Ohioans.  The City of Youngstown knows how serious these frivolous petitions can become, as CELDF’s six-times-failed Community Bill of Rights antics has cost that city more than $80,000.  It’s safe to say that this year the collective mantra of “oh, here they go again” has evolved into “enough is enough.”

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