(Ohio) Frack-Backers Launch Preemptive Strikes against Democracy Attempt to Block Community Bills of Rights from Voters

by: Posted on: October 08, 2013

By Tish O’Dell, CELDF.org

(Broadview Heights, Ohio, September 12, 2013) As Congressional representatives meet to debate military strikes against the Syrian government for targeting its own people for toxic chemical attacks and Syria offers to surrender those toxins to halt the atrocities, in Ohio there’s a clandestine, but well orchestrated attempt by backers of toxin-laden frack drilling and poison injection wells to block citizens from deciding for themselves whether State-permitted poisons will be allowed to be pumped and dumped in their communities.

On August 15th, the Athens County Board of Elections sided with seven residents who filed a protest asking them to refuse to allow voters to vote on a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance banning fracking. The Ordinance had been properly proposed and petitioned, yet without explanation the Board of Elections voted to side with the protesters. In effect, the County Board of Elections vetoed the initiative process, and preemptively decided a question that democracy demands be decided by City voters.

On August 30th, a group calling itself the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment filed a protest against a proposed Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Charter Amendment with the Mahoning County Board of Elections, asking that the Board hold a hearing and consider its reasons why the Charter Amendment should not be presented to the voters in November. Two members of the Mahoning Valley Coalition are also members of the County Board of Elections. Despite the fact that the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee had collected petition signatures certified by the City Clerk as sufficient to place the question on the ballot, the Board of Elections scheduled the requested hearing for Friday, September 6th, the last day for such an initiative to be legally scheduled for appearance on the general election ballot. The Mahoning County Board of Elections gathered at the designated time and place to announce that the protest against the initiative had been withdrawn.

On September 5th, with just one day remaining for ballot certification, the Wood County Board of Elections was presented with a protest filed by a single resident of Bowling Green, demanding that a petitioned initiative measure, a Community Bill of Rights banning fracking, be kept off the November ballot. The initiative petitions had been certified as legally sufficient by the Wood County Board of Elections on August 13th, and the Sentinel Tribune newspaper reported the next day “The issue will be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.” The same law firm — JPL Lavelle and Associates — that filed the complaints in Athens and Youngstown submitted the Bowling Green protest. This filing left less than 24 hours for the petition committee to respond and seemed targeted to deprive City voters of their right to the initiative process by making it all but impossible to defend the measure from a preemptive veto by a single City resident. None-the-less, the petitioners did file a defense of their initiative, and on September 12th, the Wood County Board of Elections decided unanimously to overturn the challenge and place the proposed charter amendment on the ballot for Bowling Green voters to decide.

Background

Against the consent of millions of Ohioans, the State government has green-lighted the injection of chemical toxins into the ground, directly through life-sustaining aquifers, either to force natural gas and naturally encased radioactive materials to the surface, or to hide the backwash of poisons from such operations in other communities by pumping it into the ground under our feet. Meanwhile, state law-makers have busied themselves enacting legislation that removes all local authority to govern the behavior of corporations involved in oil and gas extraction. Placing sole authority to “regulate” these wealthy investment magnates in the hands of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), legislators funnel “permits” that legalize the violation of fundamental rights of whole communities to their corporate benefactors.

Ohioans are beginning to understand that such legal chicanery by the State illegitimately attempts to elevate regulatory law above the unalienable rights of people and nature. But such corporate-subsidizing legislation cannot be superior to and preemptive of fundamental rights, and communities like Yellow Springs, Broadview Heights, Mansfield and Niles have already enacted Community Bills of Rights that subordinate the legal privileges bestowed by the people on corporations to their own governing authority.

It is in this context that we find the current flurry of procedural attempts to keep citizens from voting to enact their own Community Bills of Rights. Worried that people exercising their right to self-government in their own communities might decide that wealthy corporations should not be calling the shots, frack-backers are busily working to stop them from having that choice. Their claim: that only ODNR has State-recognized authority to govern gas and oil extracting corporations.

But Americans have seen this kind of procedural denial of rights before. A method of government once rejected by American Revolutionaries has been resurrected by some of the present-day political class. In place of representative democracy, today we are offered what revolutionary colonists criticized as a “ministerial” form of government, wherein all decisions affecting colonial communities were made in advance by the central government, and the local ministers had only authority to administer “superior” law, and no authority to make their own.

When the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the signers included a list of reasons for declaring why they no longer owed allegiance to the “crown,” aka the British Empire. The very first complaint lodged against the empire was this: “HE [the empire’s King] has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.”

They were not referring to state laws – there were no “states” yet. They were not referring to national laws – there was no nation yet. They meant that the empire was nullifying, or “preempting” local community laws enacted by direct representatives of the people in the Town Meetings, County and Provincial Assemblies and other community governing bodies throughout the colonies. As evidence of this, noted historian Pauline Maier has documented over ninety local “declarations of independence” issued by community governments throughout the colonies prior to July 1776. It was these expressions of frustration with the central government, and their complaints that necessary local laws were being “preempted” by the servants of the empire, that inspired Thomas Jefferson’s more famous “Declaration of Independence” in 1776.

Today we see history repeating itself. The servants of wealth and corporate privilege have engaged in a campaign to thwart the self-governing rights of Ohioans who try, within their municipal governments, to exercise the power of initiative and referendum. But the people have not surrendered their right to community self-government, and the struggle continues.

Reprinted with permission, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.


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