Expect the Williams County Board of Elections to make a decision on the county charter petition at its meeting Monday.
And if the petition is certified, expect that the elections office will forward it to the county commissioners office before midnight Monday, to meet the prescribed elections deadline.
That July 8 meeting date was set up after a flurry of questions about deadlines this week after the county elections office initially had set a July 16 date for the board’s monthly meeting, which included reviewing and making a ruling on certifying the charter petition.
But in a letter dated Monday, July 1, to the elections office, the Williams County Alliance’s legal counsel, Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge, cited Ohio Revised Code, Section 307.94—Petitioning for election on adoption of county charter, in requesting that the elections board complete its certification of the charter petitions and forward the results to the county commissioners by the 120th day prior to the Nov. 6 general elections, or July 8.
In response, Elections Director A.J. Nowaczyk on Monday agreed, also citing ORC Section 307.94 in moving the meeting up to July 8 to meet the deadline.
Then on Tuesday, The Bryan Times questioned whether the deadline was still met if commissioners received the petitions after the close of business on July 8.
That prompted Nowaczyk to send a request for an opinion to Williams County Prosecutor Katie Zartman. Nowaczyk said Zartman responded via email Tuesday that if the board certified petitions and forwarded the results to the commissioners before midnight on July 8, it was meeting conditions of the 120-day deadline.
“We will continue to meet on Monday,” Nowaczyk said.
Commissioners then must pass a resolution to place the issue on the ballot.
Later Tuesday, in response to a request for Zartman’s email, Nowaczyk told The Times he was advised by Zartman he could not publicly release her email because it was protected under attorney-client privileged per State ex rel. Leslie v. Ohio Hous. Fin. Agency, 105 Ohio St.3d 261, 2005-Ohio-1508.
The Alliance, a grass-roots local residents group, delivered 96 petitions, containing 2,534 signatures, to the Williams County Board of Elections office on June 26. The group needs 1,363 valid signatures of registered county voters to qualify for the November ballot, and Nowaczyk and his staff currently are validating the signatures, he said Tuesday.
The petitions seek a vote by county voters in the November general election to change the county from a statutory form of government to a charter government.
Nowaczyk said he and his staff are validating signatures by comparing the signatures on the petitions to the signatures on voter registration cards. He promised the validation process would be complete in time for the board meeting Monday.
The Alliance has proposed the charter as a way to legally oppose Artesian of Pioneer’s controversial plan to drill into the local underground aquifers that span a nine-county area in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana — commonly referred to as the Michindoh Aquifer — and sell up to 14 million gallons a day of Michindoh water to entities outside of Williams County.
AOP, owned by Ed Kidston, who’s also the mayor of Pioneer, has drilled a test production water well on a site on Fulton County Road S, just northwest of Fayette, and is awaiting approval by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The Alliance has enlisted the aid of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund on preparing the charter, which the Alliance says could be tailored to allow Williams County to create its own government and adopt legislation more in line with the needs and wishes of the community.
As a statutory county, Williams County’s governmental authority is under the power of the state. A charter would create so-called “home rule,” in which residents would have greater say in their government through the right of “initiative, referendum and recall,” according to Alliance chairperson Sherry Fleming.
Fleming said Tuesday she was concerned and had Lodge deliver his July 1 letter of behalf of the Alliance because the Alliance had received conflicting information about deadlines from the elections office. Nowaczyk was hired in April and Deputy Director Katrina Ebersole has been on the job for less than a year.
“I had questioned (the July 16 date) because it wasn’t at all what the ORC says,” said Fleming.
Fleming said the Williams County charter initiative is similar to other initiatives and charter home rule efforts attempted over the past several years in other counties and municipalities around the state — including, among others, Meigs, Athens and Portage counties, and the city of Medina.
She also said the Alliance is aware that all of those efforts — many geared as a way to stop fracking in those communities — have been stymied by local common pleas and state appellate courts, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and/or the Ohio Legislature.
She said she and other members of the Alliance plan to be at the Monday elections board meeting, “to hear what they have to say.”
Fleming also said she would be “shocked” if the Alliance doesn’t meet the required number of valid signatures, as the Alliance compared their signatures to a list of county registered voters as they secured signatures over a 10-week period in April, May and June.
Also on Monday’s Board of Elections agenda are seven candidate petitions for the Nov. 6 general election ballot, including Kidston’s petition to run for another term as Pioneer mayor.
The other six petitioners, with their office sought, are: Michael Elser (Bridgewater Township trustee); Patti Rosbrock (Springfield Township fiscal officer); Pamela Day (Holiday City Village Council); Don Leu (West Unity mayor); Kevin Gray (West Unity village council) and Willie Grime (Brady Township trustee).
The board will meet Monday at 4 p.m. at the board office at 1425 E. High St., Suite 104, Bryan. The meeting is open to the public.