Ohio county awards $730,000 water contract after African Americans get favorable civil rights ruling

Twenty-two African American homeowners in Muskingum County, Ohio will receive water service after years of being denied because of their race.

County commissioners awarded a $730,000 contract in July to an Ohio company to run water pipelines to Coal Run Road, one of the few areas in the county without water service. The area on Coal Run Road without water service is predominantly African American.

The county commissioners’ decision to run water to the Coal Run Road area comes less than a month after the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) issued a probable cause finding in a fair housing complaint filed by African American families and the Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA) of Akron. The Commission’s finding indicated that its investigation yielded evidence that the race of the Coal Run Road residents and other African American residents in Muskingum County was a factor in the decision not to run water to the area.

According to Vince Curry, executive director of FHAA, water service was established for white residents surrounding African American residents in the county. The result was a tiny island of residents who were forced to have water trucked in or use well water.

According to Curry, the decision to run water to the African American residents does not end the complaint. The OCRC’s probable cause finding gives the complainants several options, including the holding of a hearing before the Commission or the filing of a discrimination lawsuit in Ohio
state court.

Curry said that John Relman, a nationally renowned civil rights attorney, has met with the complainants to discuss their options. Relman’s involvement could suggest that the complainants will withdraw their complaint from the OCRC and file a federal lawsuit against Muskingum County
and the officials responsible for decisions about who received water service. Curry would not comment on the possibility of a federal lawsuit.

African Americans waited 30 years for water; white neighbors did not face “similar hurdles” to access

According to the OCRC complaint and reports in the Zanesville Times Recorder, the African American residents on Coal Run Road have been denied water service for nearly 30 years, while adjacent, predominantly white areas have not faced “similar hurdles.”

An OCRC report noted that in some cases, water lines were extended to within 100 yards of African American residents but that those residents were still denied access to  the system. The report also noted that there are 61 homes on Coal Run Road, Langan Lane, Circle Drive, and Russell Street in Muskingum County. Thirty-four of those homes are occupied by whites and 27 are occupied by African Americans. Thirty of the white homes receive water service, compared to four of the African American homes. One of the African American homes had water service established when it was owned by a prior white resident.

Curry also noted that the $730,000 water service project approved by Muskingum County Commissioners includes substantial improvements to the existing water supply to white residents. “This decision wasn’t necessarily in response to the complaints of racial discrimination,” Curry said.

According to the Times Recorder, the Muskingum County commissioners blamed the lack of water service for African American residents on a combination of “bad planning and bad luck.”

Complainant finds severed pig’s head in driveway

In December 2002, one of the complainants in the case found a severed pig’s head in her driveway. She also reported that someone was calling her home and hanging up between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. The OCRC is investigating the incident and sent the pig’s head to Ohio State University
for forensic tests.

Jerry Kennedy, one of the complainants in the case, told the Times Recorder that he and his neighbors had been trying to get water “for 50-some years.” He added, “We’ve had to haul water for all these years. We should have had it years ago.”

Additional details on this case will appear in future editions of the National Fair Housing Advocate as they become available.

FHAA et al. v. Muskingum County et al.
OCRC Complaint filed: October 2002
Probable Cause Finding Issued: June 2003