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April 14, 2001

 





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Article published April 14, 2001


Activists, Marion resolve lawsuit
Canvassers argued curfew was arbitrary

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF


MARION - Ohio Citizen Action announced yesterday it has settled a lawsuit in which Marion officials were accused of violating the U.S. Constitution by slapping a curfew and registration fee on activists who go door to door handing out flyers and soliciting donations.

As part of the proposed settlement, Marion will change its ordinance to allow canvassing until 9 p.m. In exchange, Citizen Action will comply with city hall’s requirement that each canvasser pay a $7.50 registration fee, said Simona Vaclavikova, Columbus area director for Citizen Action, Ohio’s largest consumer and environmental group.

The city of Marion would pay Citizen Action $25,000 in damages and attorney’s fees, Ms. Vaclavikova said.

"We are looking forward to talking directly with the residents of Marion about the problems at the River Valley Schools," she said.

But Mark Russell, Marion’s law director, said yesterday’s announcement was "extremely premature," because city council has not received or acted on any pact reached during settlement talks.

"City council has to decide whether to settle the lawsuit. They’re the decision-makers," he said.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 5 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, said in early 1999, Marion city hall began to enforce a 7 p.m. curfew as controversy grew over the River Valley middle and high schools.

The schools were built in 1962 on 78 acres where the military used to burn or bury tons of highly toxic chemicals. The River Valley school district has signed an agreement with the state and federal governments to build new schools, but they won’t open until 2003.

The suit said Citizen Action canvassed in Marion for several years before 1999 until 9 p.m. and without charge. Attorneys cited several federal court decisions declaring that curfews are unconstitutional if they halt canvassing for political or civic purposes by 9 p.m.

Citizen Action will resume canvassing in Marion next week, with 12 to 13 activists hitting the streets. The group already has canvassed in the River Valley school district, which is not within the Marion city limits.

"We do believe apart from extending our membership in Marion, we will help people realize what is really going on and that the students should be immediately relocated," Ms. Vaclavikova said.

Ms. Vaclavikova said she hopes the canvassers will prompt more letters from Marion area residents urging Governor Taft to immediately relocate the students from River Valley schools.


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