Pre-emption of local control


5G wireless technology is coming. Municipalities throughout the country have been suing state governments to try to retain some local control over the placement of small cell antennas and associated equipment. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, the telecommunications industry wants to install 100,000 antennas a year nationally over the next five years. Wireless companies, however, have been unhappy about the labyrinthine task of securing permits from tens of thousands of local governments.

Enter ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the corporate-funded, self-described think tank is only too happy to supply model state legislation pre-empting local ordinances to regulate the permits, fees and aesthetics of wireless equipment. And the Ohio General Assembly appears only too delighted to have had ALEC’s help.

In 2017 the state of Ohio passed a law overriding local governments’ home rule rights to regulate telecommunications equipment in public rights of way. In response, the Ohio Municipal League (OML) and cities around the state swung into action, launching multiple lawsuits. Both Cleveland Heights and University Heights joined a suit initiated by the city of Hudson. The law ultimately was found unconstitutional because it was tacked onto a bill regulating pet shops, thereby violating the Ohio Constitution’s single-subject rule for legislation.

Months of negotiations followed, as—at the legislature’s behest—attorneys for the cities and the OML conferred with the telecommunications industry to achieve a solution: House Bill 478, which Gov. Kasich signed into law. It is better than the ALEC version, but the “telcos” still hold almost all the cards.

Before its August recess, Cleveland Heights City Council passed legislation adding Chapter 943 to the city’s Codified Ordinances. Entitled “Use of Public Ways for Small Cell Wireless Facilities and Wireless Support,” it regulates, to the extent permitted by HB 478, the installation and operation of wireless small cell technology within the city. In July, University Heights passed its own version of legislation conforming to HB 478.

Increasingly, as this issue exemplifies, state legislation reflects corporate, not public interests. Accordingly, state laws pre-empt the ability of cities to make even the most basic local decisions.

As fish do not analyze the nature of water, for the past century few Americans have questioned the power that private corporations have come to exert over many aspects of our daily lives. That began to change with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision in 2010.

Early Ohio settlers knew the dangers posed by corporate power. The English monarchy’s imperial ambitions had been pursued largely through corporations chartered for that purpose. Ohioans fought in the American War of Independence to seize sovereignty from the monarchy and entrust it, not to governments or corporations, but to the people.

Early Ohio legislation stipulated that corporations be created one at a time through petitioning the General Assembly, under rigid conditions.

Corporate privileges, not rights, included limits on duration of charters (or certificates of incorporation), extent of land ownership, and amount of capitalization or total investment by owners, plus restriction of each corporate charter to a specific purpose. What did the Ohio General Assembly do to a corporation that violated these terms? It revoked its charter.

How dismayed the founders of our state would be if they dropped in on the Ohio Statehouse today, and witnessed proposed laws actually being written by private, corporate-funded entities, such as ALEC. Citizens must reclaim Ohio’s proud history of reining in corporate abuse.

To learn more about the history of corporate vs. people’s power in Ohio, e-mail us. We’ll send you Cleveland Heights resident Greg Coleridge’s Ohio Democracy vs. Corporations History Quiz.

Carla Rautenberg and Deborah Van Kleef

Carla Rautenberg is a writer, activist and lifelong Cleveland Heights resident. Deborah Van Kleef is a musician and writer, and has lived in Cleveland Heights for most of her life. Contact them at


Local group urging public utilities not be privatized


2/18/2016 – West Side Leader

To the editor:

We write in response to the Feb. 1, 2016, Blue Ribbon Task Force report.

We understand and commend the desire and need to have an outside ad hoc group assess the current conditions of the city and the present structure and policies of the city government, as well as offer recommendations for improvement.

There is much in the report with which we agree. Many of the challenges Akron faces are, as the report states, due to external political and economic conditions that are shared by other cities — namely deindustrialization, federal and state budget cuts and the recent economic recession.

We would point out that each of these realities has been caused in no small degree by the growing power and rights of business corporations and the super wealthy few. They’ve exerted political and economic influence over public policies and the economy in support of tax cuts, subsidies, perks, contracts and reductions of regulations, which have further consolidated their power and rights and increased their fortunes. The losers, of course, have been programs, policies and people in urban, rural and suburban areas, including Akron — specifically the poor, elderly, persons of color, working class and differently abled.

Not all of Akron’s current problems are due, however, to external factors. Some have been self-inflicted. The past decision by the administration to fight the [Environmental Protection Agency] over the city’s combined sewer overflow resulted in substantial federal dollars left on the table that now must come out of the pockets of Akron water and sewer customers.

The Task Force report asserts that “[T]he single largest challenge facing the City is its financial condition.” We agree. It’s appropriate, therefore, that many of its recommendations address ways to reduce costs or increase income.

Prior to listing any specific recommendations, the report wisely declares, “some of them will require further study; others will require additional resources (human and capital); and still others just may not work at this time.”

We respectfully offer that one of the recommendations in the later category, that “just may not work at this time,” that we believe should not work out ANY time is selling, leasing or transferring the city’s water and sewer system — a suggestion referenced on page 17.

Public utilities should remain public by the mere fact that to be more effective and efficient there should be one provider. Akron voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008 to keep the city’s public sewer system public  — under the control of We the People. Voters understood that to privatize/corporatize public utilities more often than not increases costs, reduces services and results in the lay-off of public employees. And in every single case, turning over a public asset to a for-profit corporation, especially if headquartered outside the community, state, if not country, significantly reduces public control — i.e. democracy.

We believe former [Cleveland] Mayor Tom Johnson, promoter of the public Cleveland electric power system, said it best more than a century ago: “I believe in the municipal ownership of all public service monopolies … for if you do not own them they will, in time, own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.”

While ostensibly a public official, the emergency manager appointed by the Michigan governor to run the public water system in Flint, Michigan, was unaccountable and unelected. Running the public water system like a business is what led to the tragic poisoning of the residents of that city.

Our concluding message is simple, as reinforced by over 60 percent of Akron voters in 2008: Keep Public Utilities Public.

Thank you for your consideration.

John Fuller, clerk, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); and Greg Coleridge, director, Northeast Ohio AFSC