By Jeff McGinnis. February 13, 2019.
Two controversial Toledo City charter amendments put to a vote
Two much-discussed and hard-fought-for amendments to the Toledo City Charter will be put before voters as part of a special election on February 26.
The initiatives on the ballot include efforts to Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo, which if passed would require that any new jail facilities must be built within the downtown area, and the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, a proposed amendment which would give Toledo residents the right to sue a business or individual on behalf of the lake to recover for claimed environmental damage.
“These were initially both petition-based ballot initiatives. Circulated within the city of Toledo, presented to the City of Toledo government, and then sent to our office after the petitions’ signatures had been reviewed,” said LaVera Scott, Director of the Lucas County Board of Elections.
ON THE BALLOT:
The proposed amendments to the Toledo City Charter will appear on the ballot as follows:
A majority affirmative vote is necessary for passage.
Shall the Charter of the City of Toledo be amended by adding a new Section to the Charter entitled “Keep the Jail in Downtown Toledo”?
Shall the Charter of the City of Toledo be amended by adding a new Section to the Charter entitled “Lake Erie Bill of Rights”?
Vote Yes or No.
For the full text of the petition language pertaining to The Lake Erie Bill of Rights and Keep the Jail Downtown, visit co.lucas.oh.us/74/Board-of-Elections
ISSUE No. 1
Lake Erie Bill Of Rights
It has been an uphill battle for the supporters of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, a measure designed to help protect the lake and its ecosystem from environmental violations.
“It is about bringing rights of nature, as a legal framework, into our city charter and making that the law,” said Markie Miller, an organizer with Toledoans for Safe Water. “What that means is, no longer viewing Lake Erie just as property, and that those who hold the rights, or hold the permits, are allowed to just use that property however they please.”
Inspired by the area water crisis of 2014, members supporting the Lake Erie Bill of Rights collected 10,000 signatures, but were denied the opportunity to have the matter brought to a vote by both the Board of Elections and the Supreme Court. But soon after, Keep the Jail Downtown, another local petition driven initiative, won their case with the court, and opened the door for the Bill of Rights to be placed on the February 26 ballot.
“So even though that was their win, it was also our win. We were able to pursue City Council to pass a resolution to put us on the ballot again.”
Supporters of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights saw the issue take yet another trip to the Ohio Supreme Court as the Board of Elections’ decision was again, for a second time, requested to be overridden by Toledo activist and trades union member Josh Abernathy— a request finally denied on January 23.
“After a long couple of months, and losing and winning it has been kind of a crazy journey,” Miller said.
The Lake Erie amendment remains controversial, however, with representatives from organizations such as the Farm Bureau Counsel arguing that the measure is so broadly worded it could leave far too many individuals— farmers, homeowners and more— exposed to legal action. Miller, however, argues that the measure gives Toledo residents a stronger local voice in the protection of Lake Erie’s ecosystem.
“We’ve had these statewide regulatory bodies that have supposedly been in charge of those processes already, and I don’t think we’ve seen them doing an adequate job. I feel like we need this (amendment), because we’re not seeing what we expect out of (those regulatory agencies).”
Find your polling location for the February 26 special election by visiting lucascountyvotes.org.
Residents hoping to vote on February 26 can confirm their voting status and polling location by visiting: lucascountyvotes.org
Early voting for the special election began on Tuesday, January 29. Those hoping to cast their ballots in advance of the February 26 election can do so at 1301 Monroe St.
The polls will be open from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, until February 15, and then from 8 am to 7 pm, February 19 through Friday, February 22. The early polling station will remain open for limited hours the weekend and day before the election: Saturday the 23rd from 8-4, Sunday the 24th from 1-5, and Monday the 25th from 8-2.
ISSUE No. 2
Keep the Jail Downtown
It has been a long fight for supporters of this initiative see it finally be put before voters. Keep the Jail Downtown’s organizers have found opposition from county officials and, originally, the Board of Elections, as they tried to put the issue on the ballot. The group stands in opposition to proposed Lucas County Commissioners plans to build new jail facilities at Detroit Avenue and Alexis Road.
“We believe the jail belongs downtown, close to the support services, Courthouse and the Safety Building,” said Mary Dutkowski, organizer and treasurer for Keep the Jail Downtown. “We think the cost will be too high for the everyday workings if they move the jail from downtown with additional man hours and transportation costs.”
A group of sixty people worked to collect over 10,000 signatures over the course of three months to garner a place on the ballot.
“We then turned it into city council, who sent it on to the Board of Elections, but the Board of Elections denied us access (to the ballot). So we went on to the Supreme Court and we got the ruling we wanted.”
Officials from Lucas County, however, still argue that the amendment is unenforceable and will eventually be deemed unconstitutional even if it passes. “We believe that it is enforceable. When it passes it will become part of the City Charter. I know that the commissioners are questioning that, saying they would take it to court, but we believe it will hold up. We also believe that they need to listen to the voters,” Dutkowski said. “Most people that we have spoken to feel that the jail belongs downtown,” she added. “The cost of moving it is astronomical. You can’t just pick the jail up and decide to move it.”