Be wary of recent attempts to create county charters

Buckeye Farm News

Those who want to limit energy development in Ohio are trying to do so by using a little employed mechanism in the Ohio Constitution. While the intention is to limit oil and gas drilling or pipeline development, the initiatives could have far- reaching impacts on all businesses and citizens, including those in agriculture.

An attempt was made recently in Athens, Fulton, Medina and Meigs counties to put proposals on the November ballot that would create charter forms of government designed primarily to limit energy development. The Ohio Community Rights Network spearheaded those efforts, which sought to create charter county governments that would possess home rule authority, a power generally limited to municipalities. Home rule allows  municipalities to largely control self-governance, including the power to zone. The OCRN plan tried to expand that authority countywide.

Legal rulings barred all of the measures from going to voters. Ohio Farm Bureau along with Athens-Meigs, Fulton and Medina county Farm Bureaus filed an amicus brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of Secretary of State Jon Husted’s invalidation of the measures in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties, which was affirmed by the high court. Meigs County commissioners turned down the Meigs initiative because it did not comply with reporting requirements.

OFBF Director of Agricultural Law Leah Curtis pointed out county charter governments are not necessarily bad. Summit County adopted this form of governance in 1979 and so did Cuyahoga in 2010. They both have 11-member county councils and have consolidated some of the duties of typically elected county officials.

While OCRN’s proposals were largely designed to appeal to voters who want to block energy development or pipeline construction, doing so would be “almost impossible,” Curtis said.

“Ohio law generally reserves the regulation of energy development to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Ohio Supreme Court has clarified that, in the case of zoning or regulating oil and gas development, home rule law does not supercede state law,” she said. She added that other federal laws also take precedence over home rule.

Curtis said these initiatives did not want to restructure for a more efficient government but instead want restrictions on all types of activities within the county’s borders. The County Commissioners Association of Ohio and Ohio Chamber of Commerce opposed the OCRN proposals.

Despite the legal rulings and widespread opposition, county charter proposals are not likely to go away. Curtis asked Farm Bureau members to be informed and aware of initiatives in their counties.

“While the stated intention may be only to limit energy development, the language used can have much farther reaching effects,” she said.