MEDINA — Arguments challenging a Medina County Board of Elections decision to keep a citizens’ petition for a charter government off the November ballot will be heard at 11 a.m. today in common pleas court.
Lawyers for the two sides in the case — county Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson and attorney Terry Lodge — said Monday that the issues concern the “threshold” and “legality” of the board’s decision.
Because the county’s common pleas judges — Joyce V. Kimbler and Christopher J. Collier — recused themselves in the case, it will be heard by visiting Judge Peter Handwork, who is retired from the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Toledo.
The role of Thompson’s office is serving as adviser to the elections board. Mike Lyons of the prosecutor’s civil division appeared and spoke at the July 10 elections board meeting when a 3-1 vote denied the petition ballot request.
Lodge, of Toledo, is representing the citizens group Sustainable Medina County, which had more than 60 circulators who gathered 6,494 signatures on petitions.
The hearing will be in Collier’s courtroom.
Thompson said Monday his office will follow state law in the matter. “We have to be able to respond to the issues,” he said.
Lyons spoke for about 20 minutes at the 75-minute Board of Elections meeting before the vote was taken and said the prosecutor’s office recommended against accepting the charter initiative because it was “defective.”
Lodge said Monday his concerns were regarding the argument that the petition needed to include the creation of a county executive, which would replace the commissioner form of government now in existence.
He said the elections board “misread the law” and there is “no requirement for a county executive.”
On a broader issue, Lodge said it would be a court’s duty to rule after passage of the charter on any questions about its implementation.
He said he will point out at today’s hearing “serious objections to the way (the Board of Elections) ruled” and the July 10 decision “goes well beyond the historical power of boards of elections.”
If the Board of Elections had approved the petition request, it would have gone to the three county commissioners for a decision on whether to place it on the ballot.
Two previous petition requests by Sustainable Medina County — in 2015 and 2016 — failed to make the ballot. The 2015 attempt failed because of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling and, last year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted cast a “no” vote when his office was called on to break a 2-2 Board of Elections vote.
Board of Elections Chairwoman Pam Miller, speaking before the 3-1 vote was taken, said the board had determined that Sustainable Medina County had enough signatures of registered voters for certification.
Leaders of Sustainable Medina County say they want the charter created because it would include a “community bill of rights” that would allow voters to have approval over issues such as the proposed $2 billion NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline that would travel through Medina and Lorain counties. The group has said rights of private property owners are being ignored.
The nonprofit Medina County Economic Development Corp. is opposed to the charter proposal, saying it would have a negative effect on the county’s economy and its reputation as a place for corporations to locate and expand.
Medina County commissioners also have said they do not believe their board has a role in the pipeline construction because it is a federal issue and not under state or local control.
Contact Managing Editor Lawrence Pantages at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.