Jim Funderburg's referendum on HB6 effort

Jim Funderburg, of Bryan, said he is spearheading a local effort to circulate petitions to help qualify a referendum on the Nov. 5 general election ballot to repeal Ohio House Bill 6. A local radio personality, Funderburg said referendum opponents’ over-the-top advertisements motivated him to action. RON OSBURN/Staff

In a variation of the famous scene in “Network,” the satirical 1976 movie, Jim Funderburg said he was mad as heck at the radio and television commercials he was seeing and hearing. And though he’s on a tight deadline, he’s decided to do something about it.

“It started when I saw these crazy ads about how the Chinese are taking over our electric grid,” said Funderburg, of Bryan, a local radio personality and former Bryan Municipal Utilities communications superintendent, about commercials flooding the airwaves from a group called Ohioans for Energy Security.

The group has mounted an ad campaign to the tune of $20 million and counting, according to media reports, that opposes efforts to qualify a referendum on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The group seeks to prevent a referendum vote on recently passed legislation in Ohio House Bill 6 that imposes electric bill surcharges on some Ohio consumers to give FirstEnergy Solutions $150 million per year to subsidize its Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants in northern Ohio.

The ads charge the Chinese government is backing the referendum efforts, “quietly invading our electric grid” and “meddling with our elections,” among other claims.

As someone in the media business, Funderburg said he began wondering “how something so obviously false, and misleading, and something just, really, so disgusting as that, could be on the TV and radio.”

He said he began doing his homework by digging into the issue, researching the ads and even calling up Williams County’s state representative, Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon).

“What I found out is that this (referendum effort) has nothing to do with the Chinese. It claims that if you sign, (petition circulators) will take your info and give it to the Chinese, and that’s absolutely false,” said Funderburg.

Funderburg said as many as a dozen Williams County residents have indicated they’ll help him begin circulating petitions to help the pro-referendum group — Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts — qualify the issue for a statewide vote Nov. 5.

Funderburg received a box of petitions Tuesday and said those interested in circulating petitions must first complete the appropriate state forms. And no, that information is not being turned over to the Chinese — it’s just part of the Ohioans for Energy Security scare tactics, said Gene Pierce, spokesperson for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts.

“That’s particularly galling,” Pierce told The Bryan Times Tuesday, especially in light of what Pierce said are allegations that the anti-referendum group is paying off petitioners and trying to buy the signatures they’ve gathered.

Pierce said Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts must collect a minimum of 265,744 signatures statewide by Monday to qualify the referendum for the Nov. 5 ballot. He said Tuesday referendum petitioners have filed a lawsuit in federal court to get an extension to their referendum signature gathering due date.

Carlo LoParo, spokesperson for Ohioans for Energy Security, told The Bryan Times Wednesday that the referendum effort “is a play for (energy) market share” and his group’s ads are trying to counter the referendum effort that is “funded by oil and natural gas companies that want to monopolize the energy market, and those entities are heavily subsidized by international companies and Chinese-owned banks.”

LoParo said if the referendum is approved it would cost the state 4,000 energy jobs and have a $500 million negative impact on the state’s economy. He declined to comment on the source(s) of his group’s advertising funding, but said HB6 surcharges would “ensure the continued operating of Ohio’s nuclear plants,” which he said account for 90 percent of the state’s “clean” energy, and 15 percent of the state’s overall energy sources.

Wednesday, Funderburg said he learned that while reports have noted HB6 adds energy bill surcharges for the state’s residential and commercial and industrial energy customers, those costs actually will not be borne by BMU customers or many other municipal power customers in Williams County.

Customers of municipal power companies like BMU, and rural electric co-ops like North Western Electric Co-op, are exempt from HB6 surcharges.

“Municipal electric customers like BMU will not have to pay the riders (surcharges) to the published rate,” BMU Director of Utilities Kevin Maynard confirmed Wednesday. He said the surcharges would come from customers of the state’s “investor-owned utilities,” such as FirstEnergy, Dayton Power & Light, AEP Ohio and Duke Energy Ohio.

He noted that while just 6 percent of the state is served by municipal power companies, that percentage — including all customers in Bryan, Montpelier, Edgerton, Pioneer and Holiday City — is much higher in Williams County

North Western Electric Co-op spokesperson Pearl Rakes also confirmed that the co-op’s approximately 6,000 Williams County rural customers are exempt from the surcharge. She agreed that was generally a little-publicized fact in media reports.

Funderburg said while he, as a BMU customer, won’t be on the hook for the surcharge, he’s still dedicated to circulating petitions, at least as a way to express his displeasure at the Ohioans for Energy Security ads.

Funderburg acknowledged the referendum effort is on a tight deadline. He said he’ll be seeking signatures between now and Monday, including at a daylong musical event at the Bryan Eagles Club on Saturday.

“There’s not a lot of time and we’ve got to get a lot of signatures. But I think this is important. We’re going to try and get as many signatures as we can,” he said.

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