Jefferson Township voters won’t get their say March 4 on whether they support the township’s recently enacted wind turbine zoning amendment after a legal decision that could open the township to wind turbine development in the near future.
The Ohio Supreme Court handed down a 6-1 ruling Tuesday that sided with property owners who challenged a citizen-driven petition to place the zoning amendment on the ballot.
Justices ruled that Trustee Tim Tillman should have formally submitted the petition to Township Fiscal Officer Brenda Mathys upon receipt of the document and the trustees should have taken a formal vote to certify the petition.
Instead, Dr. Tillman, who also signed as one of the petitioners, kept the document at his home in October and submitted it directly to the Logan County Board of Elections. The trustees mentioned the petition but did not vote on it at their October meeting, which took place after the deadline to submit the document to the election board had passed.
The election board Jan. 4 sided with the residents who filed the petition and the landowners appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
The decision means that the zoning amendment passed in September cannot be revoked or repealed, although township officials can alter portions through a proper vote, said wind turbine leaseholder Roger Brown, who drafted the language for the amendment.
“(Residents) can never again apply to have it voted out and (trustees) can never try to repeal the total amendment. They can only go after part of it, claiming that it is not adequate,” Mr. Brown said.
He and one other Jefferson Township property owner likely will file in the near future to build anemometer towers, or wind data collecting equipment, on their properties although there are no immediate plans for a wind energy company to file for a permit to build a turbine.
“I expect we will begin seeing things start moving forward soon,” Mr. Brown said.
While ballots have already been printed, Election Board Co-director Lucinda Holycross said voters will be informed by signs at the polls that votes on the referendum issue will not be counted. It mirrors the process for presidential candidates who drop out of the national contest before March 4, she said.
Residents who believe the township needs stricter zoning for wind turbines were not pleased over the court decision.
“We filed this petition on time and government officials mishandled our documents,” resident Tom Mazurek said Tuesday. “Why should we be penalized? All we are trying to do is get a very weak zoning amendment passed by township trustees before the voters. I find this very communistic.”
Jim Herring agreed with Mr. Mazurek’s assessment.
“It’s unfathomable that they can take the rights of the citizens to vote away,” he said. “I don’t see how anybody could look at this and not be afraid by the way this whole thing was done.”
But the court said residents must bear part of the burden for not making sure the petition was filed correctly.
“The referendum petitioners chose to deliver their petition to the private residence of one of the petitioners – a township trustee – and it was that trustee who delivered the petition to the board of election without the board’s authorization or certification,” Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote in the majority opinion. “This is not a case in which the referendum was thwarted by the intentional actions of a public office opposed to it.”
Justice Paul Pfeiffer, the lone dissenting voice, said the right of people in a democracy is paramount to the improper actions of public officials that led to the decision.
“This court ought not stand in the way of the exercise of pure democracy that this case represents: an informed, interested electorate deciding how the future will unfold in their own community,” he wrote.
Most of the property owners who won the decision were in Columbus on Tuesday testifying before the House of Representatives on a proposed bill that would offer incentives to developers of wind and other alternative energy sources.
Representatives of the groups that want more restrictive zoning testified before the same committee on Jan. 23.
By Reuben Mees
Bellefontaine Examiner Staff Writer
6 February 2008
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