Judge Rules County Charter Measure Should Be Placed on the Ballot

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Claps and hugs, among supporters of a charter government proposal in the Athens Court room this morning when Athens County Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy ruled a county charter government issue “should be placed on the next general ballot.”

Judge McCarthy said he made the decision after “careful consideration.” McCarthy found that the petition is “technically compliant” with the requirement of the current statute law.

“Our purpose here is not necessarily the debate of the substance of the charter itself,” said Judge McCarthy. “But the court has to make a determination of the legality of the document itself in order to go forward.”

The Athens County Bill of Rights Committee had filed a charter government proposal on June 24th to the Athens County Board of Elections. The board ruled that the signatures collected by the committee was valid, but not the petition content.

The assistant prosecutor Glenn T. Jones restated the opinion of the board. “The issue with the board comes to whether or not it is a valid charter.” However, “without sufficient evidence to the contrary,” the prosecutor’s position is that the petition should be on the ballot.

McCarthy admitted that the case was “complicated by the fact that the court has to make a decision two days” after receiving everything filed.” Under Ohio law, the court had to make a decision by 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

Judge McCarthy ruled in favor of the committee immediately after the hearing, saying “the measure should go to the voters.”

“We are very thankful to the Judge’s decision,” said attorney James Kinsman. Joined by another attorney Terry Lodge by phone, they represented the committee.

Dick McGinn, Chairman of the committee, was very happy about the decision. “The whole point of today’s decision by Judge McCarthy is that the people should debate this issue and decide based on their best judgment on what kind of government they want.”

McGinn said, the charter maintains “the government structure as it has been,” but makes provisions that give people the power of “initiative, referendum, and recall” that they do not currently have if they live in townships within the county.

The proposed charter for Athens County, provides a bill of rights for the people, the same authority for the county commissioners as the municipality, and bans of any disposal of fracking wastewater from other states, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the sale of fresh water from Athens County to be used in fracking operations.

If more than half of the county’s residents vote for the charter, Athens County can say no to injection wells  which have been approved by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Athens County took the third-highest amount of fracking wastewater in the state last year.

A supporter of the charter government, Sara Quoia said as a “concerned citizen,” she was not affiliated with either side, but concerned about environmental issues as well. “I just want clean water for my children. I want to have our earth not polluted by out-of-state frack wastes,” Quoia said.