By MAX REINHART | July 8, 2019
An effort to bring Williams County under a charter form of government hit a stumbling block Monday as the board of elections found the petition seeking to bring the topic to a vote invalid.
The elections board found that the Williams County Alliance group, which spearheaded the effort to get the charter question on the ballot, had collected and submitted to the board 2,077 valid signatures, far more than the 1,364 required for the initiative to move forward.
However, County Elections Director A.J. Nowaczyk said that based on his conversations with the board’s legal counsel — County Prosecutor Katie Zartman — and in his own opinion, language in the proposed charter issue exceeds the scope of the powers afforded to local governments by the state.
The Alliance has proposed the charter as a way to legally oppose Artesian of Pioneer’s (AOP) controversial plan to drill into the 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 the aquifer area.
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.
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.
About two dozen Alliance members and supporters attended the board meeting and several booed following the vote.
Following the vote on Monday, Fleming said the outcome was “not unexpected” since similar efforts in multiple other Ohio counties have been stymied, either by local courts, the secretary of state’s office or the state legislature.
However, she said the Alliance will continue to fight to move the effort forward. The Alliance’s legal counsel, Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge, and Alliance members were discussing their next step immediately following the meeting. Elections board members said Monday’s outcome can be challenged until a July 31 deadline.
“It’s disappointing that the constitutional rights of people mean nothing,” Fleming said.
Board members Scott Towers and Jeff Erb voted in favor of Nowaczyk’s recommendation to find the petition invalid. Board member Paul Duggan opposed the recommendation.
The board meeting was initially scheduled for July 16 but was moved to Monday after Lodge sent the board a letter requesting that the charter petitions be certified and the results forward to the county commissioners by the July 8 deadline for the Nov. 6 general election.