MEDINA – Five members of the group Sustainable Medina County filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse a decision of the Medina Board of Elections and Secretary of State Jon Husted to keep their county charter initiative off the November ballot.
The proposed charter issue came to Husted for a ruling after a vote by the Medina County Board of Elections last month resulted in a 2-2 tie. The question: whether or not to certify petitions asking that the charter initiative be placed before county voters.
According to Terry Lodge, attorney for the Sustainable Medina County members filing the law suit, “Secretary Husted is attempting to thwart – for the second straight year – the people’s right to vote on a vital matter of local control. More than 5,000 registered voters in Medina County have indicated they believe that a county charter with a ban on fracking and mega pipelines is crucially important and want the ability to cast their vote.”
The grassroots environmental group circulated petitions to place the issue on the ballot last year, only to have it pulled from the ballot by Husted. The secretary of state’s decision was upheld by the Supreme Court, but not for the reasons originally cited by Husted.
Sustainable Medina County modified its charter proposal this year, but not sufficiently to satisfy Husted, who determined it still did not satisfy the “threshold requirements that define a charter initiative,” he said in a letter to the Medina County Board of Elections dated Aug. 2.
“The secretary of state, in his tie-break decision to the Medina Board of Elections to keep the measure off the ballot, is once again attempting to interpret and rule on the legality of the charter being proposed,” said Tish O’Dell, a spokesperson for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
CELDF has been working with the Medina group and other similar organizations around the state. It is providing them with legal assistance in filing with the Supreme Court. Residents in Athens, Meigs, and Portage counties also filed protests with the secretary of state in response to votes by their local boards of elections to keep similar county charters off the ballot.
Petitioners have asked the Supreme Court to compel Husted and the Medina County Board of Elections to certify the petitions for the proposed charter and have the issue placed on the November ballot.
Attorneys for Sustainable Medina County state in their complaint that the secretary of state and board of elections “abused their discretion when they considered whether the proposed charter language fulfilled constitutional and statutory requirements concerning the substance of the charter proposal.”
Medina County Board of Elections members agreed the charter petitions had enough valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the November ballot. However, Republicans Sharon Ray and Larry Cray voted not to certify the petitions on the grounds the proposed charter would not establish an alternative form of government as stipulated in the Ohio Revised Code.
Pam Miller and John Welker, the two Democrats on the Board of Elections, voted to certify the new petitions to place a charter issue on the ballot.