By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The Wood County Board of Elections voted this morning to let Bowling Green voters decide the fate of a pipeline charter amendment. It may then be up to the courts to decide of the amendment is constitutional.
The board voted with three in favor – John Cuckler, Dick Newlove and Mike Zickar. Mike Marsh recused himself since he is the city attorney for Bowling Green.
“This board has traditionally, philosophically had a tendency to put things on the ballot and not keep them off,” Newlove said prior to the vote.
After the vote, Newlove said a new state law (House Bill 463) does add some complexities to the process since it asks local entities to decide if ballot issues are constitutional. In this case, it charges the board to determine if the charter amendment is asking the city to give citizens rights that the city has no authority to give.
“The new law does kind of put us in a difficult position,” Newlove said. “Our attitude was to let the voters decide.”
“They did all of the work collecting signatures and meeting deadlines,” he said. “We wanted to let the people to decide.”
Ultimately, however, it may be up the courts to decide if the charter amendment is constitutional.
Prior to the decision this morning, citizen activist Lisa Kochheiser asked the board to let Bowling Green citizens vote on the issue.
“I speak for the people of Bowling Green who want to protect their community from corporations, like Nexus pipeline,” Kochheiser said.
Kochheiser told the board of elections that they had no legal standing to keep it off the ballot. Since they are not elected officials, “it is not legally possible for you to tell us what is best for us,” she said.
“Is it legal for a pipeline like Nexus to poison the people of Bowling Green,” she said. “You will be denying our right to protect our community. The Bowling Green charter amendment belongs on the ballot.”
Kochheiser warned that organizers would take the petition to the Ohio Supreme Court if the local board of elections rejected the issue for the ballot.
Sally Medbourn Mott also defended the ballot issue.
“I just hope you guys will let people vote on the issue,” she said, reminding the board members of their commitment to “government for the people, of the people, by the people.”
After his morning’s meeting, Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections, said the ballot language for the charter amendment may be exactly as worded in the petition, since it is so complex.
The language of the proposed charter amendment is difficult to wade through, so the organization that filed the petition addressed each point in simpler terms. The petition calls for:
- Right to a healthy environment and livable climate. Bowling Green residents and the environment have the right to safe air, water, and land without contamination caused by oil and gas infrastructure projects (such as pipelines); this legislation does not restrict oil/gas consumption by Bowling Green residents.
- Right to enforcement. Bowling Green residents can non-violently enforce those rights if city officials and/or local courts do not; it cannot be deemed illegal for community members to attempt to peacefully enforce these rights.
- Right to enforcement against corporate rights. Corporations and business entities are denied personhood status in the eyes of the law if they violate the rights of people and nature protected by this amendment, and such entities are restricted from interfering with or overturning the rights expressed in this legislation.
- Right of local community self-government. Bowling Green residents can exercise their historically fundamental right of local community self-government to overturn unjust laws.
- Right of initiative lawmaking. Bowling Green residents possess the right to legislate in their own interest, including the ability to alter the law for the sake of strengthening and expanding their rights as expressed in this legislation.
Kochheiser said the charter amendment gives city residents a right to “peacefully enforce these rights.” That means, according to Kochheiser, giving people the right to hold sit-ins or put up blockades on roads to prevent deliveries.
“We’re talking about peaceful demonstration kind of stuff,” she said. “To try to stand up for our rights.”
Kochheiser said Bowling Green residents could do those types of protest now – but they would risk arrest. This charter amendment would make those actions legal.
Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said the language of the charter amendment does raise some questions.
“If this goes on the ballot and gets passed by the residents, we will need to have some meetings” to determine exactly what the language means for the city and its citizens, Fawcett said.
The city has no official opinion on the charter amendment, Fawcett said.