Jefferson Township voters may get a say on how they feel about the township’s current wind turbine zoning ordinance if a Friday decision of the Logan County Election Board withstands any other legal challenges.
Following a three-hour public hearing, Election Board Chairwoman Ann Beck read a two-page written decision in which the board rejected a challenge by township landowners to the issue being placed on the March 4 ballot.
“I think they found the only way they could,” township resident and wind turbine opponent Keith Nason said. “Now the voters will get to have their say as they should.”
But the legal challenges may not be over. Attorney Joseph Miller and the two residents who want wind turbines on their property who attended the hearing said they are “considering all options,” which could include an appeal to the judicial system.
The Jefferson Township Trustees failed in September to override an ordinance written by landowners and passed unanimously by the township’s zoning board. Many residents believe the ordinance is too lenient and they circulated a petition for referendum to challenge the ordinance.
Ms. Beck said the election board determined 138 of the total 163 signatures on the petition were valid, which is greater than the 8 percent of active voters in the township during the last governor’s race.
The property owners had challenged the petition alleging that Trustee Tim Tillman, who received the petition from the residents, did not follow the law in submitting them to the election board.
They alleged that he was not authorized to submit the petition to the election board on the township’s behalf and that he did not file it within the 14 days specified by law.
Mr. Tillman, however, testified he was acting on advice from Logan County Prosecutor Gerald Heaton when he did not take the petition to the board of trustees for a vote. He admitted he did not file a copy with the township’s financial officer.
That, according to Mr. Miller, cast a shadow over the petition’s legitimacy.
“What the petitioners did totally subverted the process that is laid out by legislative authority,” he said. “The entire process was shrouded in secrecy.”
But Daniel Brown, who represented 28 petitioners, said errors by officials should not negate a petition for referendum that was properly submitted by residents.
“If there are any deficiencies, it was on the part of elected officials and not the people who prepared the petition,” he said. “Every time a board of trustees doesn’t like a petition of referendum or action of citizens, all they have to do is sit on it for two weeks and it goes away.”
Ms. Beck, who was joined by board member Ben Stahler in issuing the ruling, said they tended to believe Mr. Tillman answered questions truthfully and that the discussion of the trustees at the first meeting after the petitions were filed was adequate to meet the requirements of state law.
Election board members Nancy Knight and Bill Montgomery did not take part in the discussion and vote to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Mrs. Knight has a relative involved in the issue, while Mr. Montgomery has done legal work in the case.
By Reuben Mees
5 January 2008
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