Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
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City council taking time on jail, Lake Erie ballot initiatives

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The fate of two citizen-led initiatives that were kept off Tuesday’s Lucas County ballot is back in the hands of Toledo City Council.

Members of Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo had high hopes going into Monday night’s Lucas County Board of Elections meeting that the board would authorize a special election now that it’s too late to get that initiative on the general election ballot.

The cost for a special election has been estimated at $240,034.

But after sitting through a more than two-hour meeting, about a half-dozen group members were told the elections board had been advised by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kevin A. Pituch to hold off because Toledo Law Director Dale Emch was having his staff take another look at the matter.

The announcement was made by elections board member David Karmol after the board reconvened following an executive session held at the end of the meeting.

“We’ve been advised by our legal counsel that Toledo City Council is still looking at it,” Mr. Karmol told the spectators, who fumed and shouted back over the latest delay.

Ninety minutes before the board met for the last time before Election Day, Toledoans for Safe Water held a news conference inside One Government Center to once again implore city councilmen for equal treatment of its proposed Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

That group wants either an ordinance or whatever else the city council’s doing for the group seeking to keep the county jail downtown. At the time of that news conference, Toledoans for Safe Water thought the proposal for a special election was a done deal.

Both groups are expected to be at the next city council meeting, which will be on Wednesday because of the midterm election. The elections board had certified far more signatures than were required by state law to get the proposals on the ballot, but it raised legal concerns about both proposals.  

Sean Nestor, a Toledoans for Safe Water member, said it will be “a tremendous blow to democracy” if the Lake Erie Bill of Rights does not eventually go before voters.

“A lot of people are dying to have a vote on this,” he said.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is modeled after similar initiatives in other parts of America that assert certain ecosystems have as many “rights” as courts have given corporations.

Toledoans for Safe Water was joined at the event by Mike Ferner, founder of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of ACLE by the Environmental Law & Policy Center was recently dismissed by Judge James Carr, who agreed the state of Ohio had not done enough to prevent algal blooms but ruled the case in front of him went beyond his jurisdiction. Groups are looking into reshaping their argument and filing a new lawsuit.

“The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is really the best opportunity that we have now to really do something about cleaning up the lake,” Mr. Ferner said.

Terry Lodge, a local attorney who specializes in environmental and energy issues, said city councilmen need “to understand this is really a 'buck-stops-here’ moment.”

He said the Kasich administration “hasn’t delivered” in getting big agricultural operations to reduce algae-growing phosphorus releases. And, by a 4-3 vote last week, the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission tabled a decision on the administration’s cleanup strategy until its next meeting on Feb. 15, after the state’s next governor is sworn in.

“They're throwing things over the horizon as much as they can," Mr. Lodge said of that state commission.

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