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Local Medina County News

Judge rejects county charter complaint

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    Medina County Assistant Prosecutor Mike Lyons, right, argues Tuesday in support of the county Board of Elections decision to disallow a citizens petition initiative seeking a November vote on creating a charter form of government. Visiting Judge Peter Handwork ruled in the boards favor. At left are Sharon Township resident Kathie Jones of Sustainable Medina County and attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo.

    LUCAS FORTNEY / GAZETTE

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MEDINA — A visiting judge ruled Tuesday that a citizens group’s petition seeking a November vote to create a charter form of government was legally ruled off the ballot last week by the Medina County Board of Elections.

The lawyer for Sustainable Medina County, Terry Lodge of Toledo, said a protest still can be filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office by Aug. 2. He said that is “an obligatory step” before a possible appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We’re disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” Lodge said of the judge’s ruling.

Visiting Judge Peter Handwork cited two factors in his two-page decision.

The first was that while the charter provided “a detailed list” of duties for county officers, it did “not include all duties of those offices enumerated in the Ohio Revised Code and there is no language in the charter that attempts to incorporate all duties imposed by general law.”

His second reason for upholding the elections board’s ruling concerned the charter’s bid “to enact controls over the administration of existing state and federal law.”

More than 60 Sustainable Medina County members gathered 6,494 signatures and met a June 30 deadline to be considered for the Nov. 7 ballot.

On July 10, the elections board voted 3-1 against certifying the petitions while confirming the signature total met the necessary requirement.

Two previous attempts by Sustainable Medina County to put a charter issue before voters also failed — in 2015 and 2016.

Handwork, retired from the 6th District U.S. Court of Appeals since 2013, was assigned the case by the Ohio Supreme Court after Medina County Common Pleas Judges Christopher Collier and Joyce V. Kimbler recused themselves.

He heard arguments Tuesday from Lodge, who filed the vote appeal on behalf of Sustainable Medina County, and Mike Lyons of the civil division of the county prosecutor’s office.

Leaders of Sustainable Medina County have said a goal of the charter was to allow voters to have local control over environmental issues concerning land, air, water and private property.

The charter would be structured with a “community bill of rights” that would take items such as a proposal to build the $2 billion NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline before voters.

In his decision, Handwork wrote, “These restrictions on the administration of existing state and federal laws are beyond the authority of a county.”

County commissioners have said the proposed NEXUS pipeline is covered by federal law and local authorities do not have regulatory authority.

Officials from the Medina County Economic Development Corp. have said a charter form of government would hamper the climate for business growth in the county.

About 20 people gathered in Collier’s courtroom gallery for Tuesday’s hearing, including elections board member John Welker, who voted to certify the petitions; county commissioners Adam Friedrick and Bill Hutson; and Tish O’Dell of Broadview Heights, an Ohio organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an organization based in Mercersburg, Pa.

“The right of the people to a government we want to alter and reform blocks us from doing that,” O’Dell said.

Contact Managing Editor Lawrence Pantages at (330) 721-4065 or lpantages@medina-gazette.com.

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