By RON OSBURN rosburn@bryantimes.com

July 16, 2019

The Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Tuesday issued a public statement opposing the proposed county charter initiative.

The board unanimously voted to “strongly oppose the proposed charter as being detrimental to the business community of Williams County, due to the unprecedented authority to regulate all business and environmental issues given to a simple majority of two commissioners.”

“This is a gross overreach and concentration of governmental power with no checks and balances,” according to the statement, which was signed by all 11 members of the board that were present Tuesday, including Rick Thormier, 2019 board president, and Bob Golding, 2020 board president. Dan Yahraus, chamber executive director, also signed the statement.

The Williams County Alliance, a local non-profit grassroots residents group, has proposed a county charter as a way to oppose a plan by Artesian of Pioneer to extract and sell water from the aquifer underneath Williams County to entities outside the county.

The Alliance submitted more than the required number of signatures to the county elections board in late June, but July 8 the election board denied the petition, and a hearing on that decision was held Tuesday in Williams County Common Pleas Court (see accompanying story).

Yahraus said the board is concerned about the AOP plan and its effect on water in the county but the board felt the charter was not the best way to address it.

“This has been discussed over the past many months. We talked at (Tuesday’s) board meeting as a (board) and agreed on this statement,” Yahraus said.

Meanwhile, Matt Davis, executive director of the Williams County Economic Development Corporation, said WEDCO also has been discussing the AOP plan and the charter, but is refraining for now from taking a public position.

“Our members dictate our position. Until we hear it’s officially on the ballot, we’ll remain silent,” Davis said Tuesday.

Williams County Common Pleas Court Judge J.T. Stelzer is expected to make a ruling on the validity of the election board petition rejection today before the statutorily required 4 p.m. deadline.

The chamber’s statement also encourages residents to educate themselves as to the charter and its provisions, and the board also “calls upon all of our state and local elected representatives to create a dialog with the neighboring states, and institute a multi-state water regulatory framework to protect the long-term interests of the Williams County community.”

The Williams County Commissioners have begun the process of helping to create a tri-state commission that would work on various mutual topics, including water issues.
Last week, the Hillsdale (Michigan) County Board of Commissioners voted to authorize Chairman Mark Wiley to sign articles of agreement for a proposed Ohio-Michigan-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, according to the Hillsdale Daily News.

Also last week, the Steuben (Indiana) County Commissioners reviewed a draft of the articles of agreement for the Ohio-Michigan-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, according to a KPC (Indiana) Media Group report.

A meeting is set July 30 in Bryan to bring the following counties together: Williams, Henry, Fulton and Defiance counties in Ohio; Lenawee, Hillsdale and Branch counties in Michigan; and Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties in Indiana.

Yahraus said the chamber has posted the charter on its website at business.bryanchamber.org/…/williams-county-charter-petition.

The entire text of the proposed Williams County charter, along with other points of information, also is available at www.protectourwaterwilliamscounty.com.

Several hundred Bryan area businesses are members of the Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce. WEDCO is an economic development agency that assists in recruiting and retaining businesses in the county.