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No justice in Athens County as residents are denied right to vote on qualified citizen initiative
Colorful drawing of a landscape with a sun, windmills, people holding hands, some trees and the words Ohio Community Rights Network

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO:  On August 8th, the Fourth District Court of Appeals dismissed the Athens County Bill of Rights Committee’s (ACBORC) appeal to place their rights-based county charter initiative on the ballot. Athens County residents were denied the right to vote on forming a county charter government in the November 2017 election. The Athens Board of Elections and the Common Pleas Court blocked the people’s initiative, which also banned fracking wastewater injection wells, despite residents duly qualifying the measure.
 

The appellate court claimed there was a technical mistake made at the Common Pleas Court, thereby justifying the higher court’s refusal to issue a decision. ACBORC asks why the court took more than six months to decide not to decide.
 

ACBORC has worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund  (CELDF) since 2014 to advance Community Rights. They are driving forward rights to a healthy environment and to local community self-government as they face fracking wastewater injection wells. The wells threaten communities’ air, water, and soil throughout the county. Through their constitutional right to directly legislate, Athens residents have qualified multiple citizen initiatives to ban fracking as a violation of rights.
 

Growing Community Rights leads to growing efforts to block those rights.

Since 2014, CELDF has defended community members’ right to vote as Secretary of State Jon Husted, County Boards of Elections, and the judiciary have worked to block qualified citizen initiatives from ballots across the state. In 2016, the Ohio legislature also acted on behalf of the oil and gas industry with HB463 in an effort to stop Community Rights initiatives. CELDF arguments to defend the right to vote in Bowling Green led to a partial overturning of HB463 in 2017.
 

The court of appeals joins statewide efforts to block Community Rights citizen initiatives.

The Fourth Appellate District Court now joins state efforts to crack down on the people’s right to vote on their own measures. The Court refuses to consider granting relief to Athens County residents who seek justice and acknowledgement of their unalienable and constitutional right to propose and vote on their own measures.
 

“These judges act more like politicians wary of offending their corporate campaign donors than arbiters of justice. Equally unconscionable, their decision places further expense and work on the backs of the people who are simply asserting their rights,” stated CELDF’s Ohio community organizer Tish O’Dell.
 

Milena Miller of ACBORC added, “It’s convenient and cowardly for these judges to find some technical reason not to hear our plea for justice. They’ve closed ranks with the rest of the state, blocking all avenues for a remedy. To my Athens neighbors, I ask, are you planning to advance an initiative that may actually protect our rights and curtail corporate power? Think again. The question today is, what are we going to do about it?”
 

Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights movement building across the U.S. Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance and protect fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Growing state and industry efforts to stop them are galvanizing more people to action.
 

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. Ohio joins state Community Rights Networks in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, where residents are advancing Community Rights state constitutional amendments.

Additional Information

For additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at info@celdf.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 Fund

The 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.