Portage County Charter by Citizen Initiative
Since 2015, we've been working for a county charter that secures our right to a local government with the authority to protect the health and safety of all Portage residents, ensures our right to decide what happens in our community, guarantees equal rights of citizen initiative, referendum, safe and fair elections, freedom from corporate use of our community for development or as a dumping ground for profit, without citizen voice.
Each year, our core group gathered in winter to work with our lawyers from CELDF (the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) to decide what we wanted our local government to be. We decided we mostly wanted to secure our right to decide what happened in our community, to ensure the local right to citizen initiative, and to protect our community from what we'd learned was a clear health and environmental destruction threat---fracking and the waste injection of the radioactive, toxic fracking waste. We also decided we didn't want to change the form of government, we wanted the same government structure, with more right to decide locally.
In 2015, our lawyers searched all the available information available about legal requirements and helped us craft a 7 page petition to create a charter government. Networking with other Ohio communities (OHCRN) who have been working with CELDF for similar local control enabled us to learn from each others' experiences. Over the next three years, whenever a county collected sufficient signatures to qualify as a ballot issue, the local (unelected) Board of Election refused to put the charter on the ballot so that county's citizens could vote on it. Each year, we spent hours with our CELDF lawyers trying to revise our charter in hopes of meeting the vague technical objections to the previous charter, while keeping the essential rights and form of government we the people wanted. Each year, the Boards of Election were supported by the Secretary of State, and finally the Ohio Supreme Court---in each case on technicalities. Thus, each year, we had to work with our lawyers to try to satisfy the vague technical objections of the previous year, and start all over collecting over 6,000 signatures. Our most recent charter petition was 16 pages long.
We collected signatures at farmers' markets, street fairs, festivals, and holidays all over the county. Over these nearly five years, our core group has collected tens of thousands of signatures of Portage citizens who want to secure the rights of all Portage residents, to protect our community from destruction, and to build an even brighter future. Before we could collect the more than 6,000 valid signatures required for our most recent charter, a similar charter in another county was kept off their ballot. We decided we needed to regroup and rethink. Then the pandemic struck. Of course, the pandemic prevents all those gatherings and thus signature collecting. So, simply trying to rewrite the charter and starting over is not an option.
We're continuing to work with OHCRN to spread the word about why we need to change the legal structure---ultimately at the state level. We're also exploring alternative ways to work outside the legal structure to create the kind of community we want to live in. Our core group is not going away. If you want to envision a better community, join us.