Saturday, August 24, 2019
story tease

Ohio Supreme Court rejects two Youngstown charter amendment proposals

November election won’t include fracking, campaign amendments
Published: 10/7/17 @ 12:05

By David Skolnick


There won’t be charter amendments to ban fracking or change how elections are conducted on Youngstown’s Nov. 7 ballot.

In a 4-3 decision Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an appeal by officials with the two groups backing the proposals to overturn Sept. 6 votes by the Mahoning County Board of Elections not to permit either to be put in front of voters this fall.

One proposal would have sought to ban fracking and fracking-related activities – city voters have rejected similar ballot initiatives six previous times – and the other would have changed how elections are conducted in the city, including restricting who can give campaign contributions.

Supporters filed writs of mandamus with the Supreme Court on Sept. 7.

Document: Charter Amendment Rejection

In making its decision, the board of elections leaned heavily on a new state law, House Bill 463, which requires boards to invalidate local initiative petitions if they determine any part of the petition falls outside a local government’s constitutional authority to enact them.

But the state’s highest court decision Friday relied only on case law, with the majority writing: “We leave consideration of the constitutionality of the new enactment for another day.”

Those in the majority were Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy, Judith French and R. Patrick DeWine.

In 2016, “this court held that a county board of elections may properly refuse to certify a proposed municipal ordinance to the ballot when the ordinance encompasses a matter beyond the scope of the municipality’s authority to enact,” the decision reads.

That prior decision was “Sensible Norwood,” in which the Hamilton County Board of Elections refused to certify to the city of Norwood ballot a proposal to decriminalize marijuana. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the decision.

Justice Patrick Fischer wrote Friday’s dissenting opinion, with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice William O’Neill joining him.

Justice Fischer wrote the board’s “role in processing initiative petitions does not extend to evaluating the substantive ballot-worthiness of a proposal.” He also wrote that while the majority decision didn’t address House Bill 463, he contends it’s unconstitutional.

In response to the court’s decision, Mark Munroe, Mahoning County elections board chairman and head of the county Republican Party, said, “I appreciate that the court found that under the existing statutes and case law, the board of elections acted properly in rejecting the Youngstown charter amendments. However, I recognize that it was a narrow 4-3 decision, with the issue of whether the board’s action was constitutional or not being put off until another day.”

Munroe said he expects the issues “are destined for yet more litigation.”

Susie Beiersdorfer, who backed the two charter proposals, said the decision “doesn’t really surprise me. The ‘corporate state’ is alive and well, and it doesn’t work for the people. I agree with the minority that House Bill 463 is unconstitutional.”

Terry J. Lodge, a Toledo attorney who filed the writ, said it appears the court “had a lot of debate” based on the one-vote decision and the time it took to make it. Lodge said the majority avoided deciding the legality of House Bill 463 in a case that was ideal for the court to make a determination.

David Betras, elections board vice chairman and head of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, said he wishes the law was different and allowed local people to make decisions such as the rejected charter proposals.

“My heart is with the right of the people to petition their government,” Betras said. “I hate taking issues away from voters, but I have to uphold the law.”

State law gives jurisdiction over fracking to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. But supporters of the rejected proposal say the courts should decide whether that’s enforceable.

The election proposal restricted political contributions to $100 per ballot measure and candidate, and only permits registered city voters to contribute. The proposal would have banned corporations, labor unions, political action committees, political parties and other campaign funding entities to give money to city candidates and ballot issues.

That proposal also would have eliminated political-party primaries, replacing them with nonpartisan ones in which the top two vote getters faced each other in the general election, and would have allowed city residents to speak at all public meetings of city government without having to register or seek permission beforehand.

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