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Prosecutor's office: Elections board was right to reject Lake Erie Bill of Rights

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    David Hartman holds a sign during a special meeting of the Lucas County Board of Elections Tuesday, August 28, 2018. At the meeting, board members followed their legal council's recommendation to exclude two initiatives from the November ballot: one to keep the Lucas County jail downtown and the other seeking to establish a Lake Erie bill of rights.

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    Attorney Kevin Pituch makes his recommendation that the Lucas County Board of Elections vote not to place initiatives on the November ballot for keeping the Lucas County jail downtown and establishing a Lake Erie bill of rights.

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    Algae covers the Maumee River in 2017.

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The controversy over the citizen-led initiative known as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights has drawn another rebuke from the Lucas County prosecutor’s office.

In a new filing with the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, the prosecutor’s office continued to assert the county elections board acted within its right to keep the proposal off the Nov. 6 ballot. The 22-page response, made by county Prosecutor Julia Bates and assistant county prosecutors John A. Borell, Kevin A. Pituch, and Evy M. Jarrett, states it is “without question that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Initiative exceeds the initiative authority of the voters of the city of Toledo.”

“A county board of elections may properly refuse to certify a proposed municipal initiative to the ballot when the initiative encompasses a matter beyond the scope of the municipality's authority to enact,” the document states. “It is undisputed that the board voted to deny access to the ballot because the proposed initiative exceeds the authority of the city of Toledo or its citizens to enact.”

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Attorney Kevin Pituch makes his recommendation that the Lucas County Board of Elections vote not to place initiatives on the November ballot for keeping the Lucas County jail downtown and establishing a Lake Erie bill of rights.

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The petitioners, in their latest filing submitted Tuesday, reiterated their position that citizen rights have been violated by the election board’s decision to keep the measure off the ballot, stating the process has been “contradictory” and has “wreaked havoc on the people's core political rights.”

“The Lucas County Board of Elections acted unlawfully and abused its discretion by prohibiting the proposed charter amendment from appearing on the ballot,” plaintiff attorneys Terry Lodge of Toledo and Jensen Silvis of Akron wrote in a 131-page brief.

The state’s highest court has not yet ruled on that case or another one also kept off the ballot by the elections board on Aug. 28. The latter calls for citizens to vote on a proposal to keep the Lucas County jail in downtown Toledo.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights has been proposed by an activist group called Toledoans for Safe Water. It collected some 10,000 signatures and had 6,438 of them validated by the elections board — nearly 1,200 more than what is required to get it on the ballot.

Similarly, the elections board validated 7,764 of the 10,583 signatures Keep the Jail in Downtown Toledo submitted. In both cases, 5,244 signatures from registered voters were needed.

The Lake Erie group’s ballot proposal calls for a vote to amend the Toledo City Charter in a way that declares the Lake Erie watershed has legal rights to “exist and flourish.”

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights proposes the world’s 11th largest body of water be given rights as an ecosystem that citizens would be legally entitled to defend.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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