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Visiting judge will hear dispute over charter government proposal

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MEDINA — A visiting judge will hear Sustainable Medina County’s dispute with the Medina County Board of Elections over the legality of its charter government proposal.

The board voted 3-1 on Monday to deny the petition, on advice from Mike Lyons of the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office. Lyons called the initiative “defective.”

But the citizens group’s attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, called the board’s decision “arbitrary” and “capricious” in a complaint filed Wednesday.

After the board’s decision, Lodge had said the group also had the option of filing a legal challenge with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office or the Ohio Supreme Court.

Judge recusals

Both Medina County Common Pleas Court judges — Joyce V. Kimbler and Christopher J. Collier — recused themselves Friday.

Kimbler wrote her decision was made “to avoid the appearance of impropriety” in her notice of recusal while Collier didn’t elaborate in his notice.

The 11 a.m. Tuesday hearing will be in Collier’s courtroom.

Kathie Jones of Sharon Township, a leader of Sustainable Medina County, said Lodge was told that retired Judge Peter Handwork will hear the case. Handwork retired in February 2013 after serving as judge on the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo beginning in 1983.

Complaints filed

In a one-page letter dated Wednesday, Lodge said the Board of Elections’ decision was “not supported by law.”

In a two-page response on the request for the hearing made to Judge Kimbler, the prosecutor’s office said the board’s decision to rule the charter off the ballot was “because it fails to adequately provide for an alternative form of government … ”

Lyons, assistant county prosecutor for civil cases, wrote that the charter proposal “fails to provide for the performance of all duties imposed on county officers by law.”

His filing also said the charter “seeks to enact limitations on the existing state and federal laws, an action a county does not have authority to take.”

Lodge requested a copy of the “advisory letter” given by Lyons to the elections board. But on Wednesday, Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson declined to release the letter. Thompson cited “attorney-client communication” and said the letter is “not subject to the mandatory availability required by Ohio’s public records laws.”

Jones, who led more than 60 people to gather signatures on petitions throughout the county since April, said she worked on gathering job descriptions for all the county officers.

Jones’ group collected 6,494 signatures requesting the charter ballot issue. During the Board of Elections meeting, chairwoman Pam Miller said the board had determined that there were enough valid signatures for certification.

Lyons confirmed that in his filing with Judge Kimbler, saying “the signatures on the petition are sufficient.”

No county executive, council

While Cuyahoga and Summit counties changed years ago from a commissioner system of government to a format with a county executive and council, the Medina group’s petition does not call for those offices to be created.

Jones said the petition would allow for resident s to be able to vote on environmental issues affecting air, water and health.

Sustainable Medina County has been fighting the proposed construction of a pipeline by NEXUS Gas Transmission, a business consortium of DTE Energy of Detroit, Spectra Energy of Houston, and Enbridge Inc. of Canada. NEXUS first proposed the $2 billion project in August 2014. The line would travel 255 miles from Columbiana County through Medina and Lorain counties into Michigan and finally to a hub in Canada for export.

The citizens group said it believes the rights of private property owners are being ignored.

The Medina County commissioners have said the issue is a federal matter and not under the county’s control. On Monday, Commissioner Adam Friedrick told The Gazette he was happy with the Board of Elections’ decision and that board members Pam Miller, Larry Cray and Sharon Ray deserved “marks for their courage.”

Miller, Cray and Ray were the three votes against putting the charter on the ballot while John Welker voted in favor of sending a report to the commissioners that would have been the next step in ballot certification.

Two years ago, Sustainable Medina County first presented the charter proposal.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted rejected the request along with others from Fulton and Athens counties; a legal challenge was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court. The court ruled the provisions in the charter proposals did not include a form of government or a method for how members of the new government would be elected.

Last year, when the group brought petitions again, the two Democratic Party representatives on the board — Miller and Welker — voted to approve the petitions and send their recommendation to county commissioners for certification.

Cray and Ray, both Republicans, voted no. The 2-2 tie resulted in the board asking Husted to decide the matter. On Aug. 2, Husted ruled the proposal was invalid on an “alternative basis” and did not “satisfy the threshold requirements that define a charter initiative.”

No quorum at FERC

NEXUS received a Final Environmental Impact Statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommending construction on Nov. 30, but a lack of a quorum among the five-member board has kept the project from obtaining final certification. President Donald Trump has proposed three nominees to fill vacant seats on the FERC board but the full U.S. Senate has not acted on confirmation yet.

The county’s leading business group, the Medina County Economic Development Corp., is opposed to the charter idea, saying it would harm the local business climate. The business development manager of the group, Kathy Breitenbucher, spoke in opposition at the Board of Elections meeting.

Contact Managing Editor Lawrence Pantages at (330) 721-4065 or lpantages@medina-gazette.com.

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