ATHENS, OH: An attempt to quash a citizens’ county charter initiative failed in the Common Pleas Court this week. Athens County residents face record amounts of fracking wastewater that is slated to be injected into permitted wells across the county, and are using their initiative powers to protect themselves.Seeking to expand their right to local self-government, and to ban the injection of fracking waste and related activities as a violation of rights, they recently submitted well over the required number of signatures to place their initiative on the November ballot.
Athens County joins Medina and Fulton Counties, where similar county charter initiatives recently qualified for the ballot.
The Athens County Bill of Rights Committee (ACBORC) contacted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) this winter, requesting CELDF’s assistance in drafting the county charter to secure the right to local self-government, and protect the county’s water from fracking waste and its infrastructure.
Following the submission of the signatures, the Athens County Board of Elections confirmed there were sufficient qualified signatures. However, on July 6th, in a letter sent to the County Commissioners, the Board of Elections stated, "Because the petition does not create a valid charter form of government we find that the petition is not valid."
CELDF assisted the community to challenge the Board’s actions in Common Pleas court, and this week,the judge ruled in favor of Athens residents, indicating the Board had exceeded its authority in determining the validity of the charter itself.
Dick McGinn, a member of ACBORC, cheered the decision, stating, “The people of Athens have an inalienable right to vote on our own measure, which is being advanced to codify our right to clean air, water, and our right to local self-government. This is democracy in action.”
CELDF’s Ohio community organizer Tish O’Dell stated, “If the four people composing the Board of Elections were deemed to have the authority to say which initiatives are valid and constitutional and which are not, the people of Athens would be living under an oligarchy, not a democracy. The people have a right to initiative, and are exercising that right.”
Through grassroots organizing and public interest law, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) works with communities across the country to establish Community Rights to democratic, local self-governance and sustainability. CELDF has assisted close to 200 communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other threats, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights. This includes assisting the first communities in the U.S. to establish Rights of Nature in law, as well as the first communities to elevate the rights of communities above the “rights” of corporations.
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