Community leaders from Tuscarawas County shared their opposition for Issue 1 during a press conference at the New Philadelphia Fire Station. (Photo by Stacey Carmany, Tusco TV)

New Philadelphia, Ohio - Tuscarawas County’s community leaders are uniting against a proposed constitutional amendment that they say is bad for the county and bad for Ohio.

During a press conference convened Thursday by the Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition, a panel of speakers positioned at the forefront of the community’s battle against drug tracking and addiction voiced their strong opposition to Issue I, also known as the Ohio Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment. 

The speaking out in opposition during the conference held at the New Philadelphia Fire Station were Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos, Sheriff Orvis Campbell, Commissioner Kerry Metzger, Prosecutor Ryan Styer, Job and Family Services Director David Haverfield, and New Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Nanette DeGarmo VonAllman. 

Jodi Salvo is the coordinator for the Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition. She said the group of panelists came together to warn Tuscarawas County of the potential devastating impact Issue 1 would have on Tuscarawas County and the state of Ohio.

“Collectively, we see Issue 1 as dangerous and reckless,” she said. “Each one of us do have a solid understanding of addiction and the desire for people to get the help and services they need to enter into recovery, but collectively we are at a loss as to how Issue 1 would be of benefit to accomplish this goal.”

About Issue 1

If adopted, the Issue I would mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug or controlled substance be classified as misdemeanors. This includes offenses related to fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, and LSD. It would also prohibit judges from sentencing those offenders to jail time until their third offense within 24 months and require a graduated series of responses for minor, non-criminal probation violations.

In addition, the amendment would also require sentence reductions of up to 25 percent for individuals currently incarcerated who participate in rehabilitative, work, or educational programming. Individuals incarcerated for murder, rape, or child molestation would not qualify for sentence reductions. The amendment would also allow an individual previously convicted of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug or controlled substance to ask the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual has completed the sentence. 

Proponents say the amendment would reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level crimes, saving tens of millions of dollars annually, which would be diverted into drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.

While the local panelists agreed those goals are important, they said the problem with Issue 1 is in its execution.

In their words

Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos oversees the county’s drug court program. She explained how the amendment would take away the ability of the criminal justice system to hold offenders accountable. 

Judge Thomakos said most addicts will commit crimes to support their addiction and end up in the criminal justice system. She said it’s the judges’ job to determine the right sentence. 

“When crimes involve illegal drugs or are driven by addiction to illegal drugs, the sentence will involve treatment. However, Issue 1 significantly limits a judge’s ability to sentence those defendents who refuse to obey court orders or follow a treatment plan,” she said.

The judge said the addicted are a difficult population, and without the threat of incarceration, the court cannot change these behaviors. She said Issue 1 limits the job she was elected to do.

Tuscarawas County Sheriff Orvis Campbell said Issue 1 will bring more drugs and drug traffickers into Ohio. 

“I know this constitutional amendment will bring more drugs to Ohio. It’s not rhetoric and it’s not fear. It’s common sense,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if it will bring [them] in. It will bring them in.”

Tuscarawas County Prosecutor Ryan Styer shared how Issue 1 will take away the ability of the criminal justice system safe. 

Styer said he has been researching the amendment extensively, and the digger he deeps, the more he understands why almost all of the statewide organizations of the professional who work closest with victims and addicts oppose the issue.

“Anyone who knows anything about this problem that had worked on the frontlines in a collective association is against Issue 1. That’s no surprise to me at all,” he said. 

Styer said the amendment was funded by out-of-state billionaires who paid volunteers to collect signatures last year to get the amendment on the ballot. 

“On top of that petition was the title Ohio Safe Neighborhood Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Act,” he said. “That sounds good. Who’s against safe neighborhoods? Who’s against drug treatment?

“You really need to ask yourself as you dig into this issue and you learn about this, ‘How does Issue 1 keep your neighborhood safe?’” he continued. “I’ve asked myself that question, and I don’t even see how in the world it could keep neighborhoods safe. In my way of thinking, it does the exact opposite.”

Erik Frederickson is a local man entering his 10th year of recovery from addiction who now advocates for others struggling with substance abuse issues. He says that Issue 1 is wrong for Ohio because individuals in addiction need to know that there are consequences for their actions. 

Judge Nanette DeGarmo VonAllman presides over the New Philadelphia Municipal Court’s Recovery Court, a specialized docket for drug-related offenders. She said Issue 1 would take away the ability of the criminal justice system to ensure that drug addicts commit to their sobriety.

David Haverfield is the director of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services. He weighed in on the potential impact that Issue 1 would have on children and families. 

Tuscarawas County Commissioner Kerry Metzger explained why a constitutional amendment is the wrong way to approach major criminal justice reform and will have unintentional consequences that could not be easily remedied by legislators.   

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