ACHSM Seeks Help From Local Elected Officials Over Ridges Advisory Committee Legislation

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The Athens County Historical Society and Museum (ACHSM) is seeking help from area legislators, State Sen. Lou Gentile (D-30th Dist.) and State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-94th Dist.) to scuttle the legislation advanced by Ohio University to reconfigure The Ridges Advisory Committee.

An amendment to the state budget bill (House Bill 59) is being sponsored by Sen. Chris Widener (R-10th Dist.), representing Clark, Greene and Madison counties, would alter the mandatory configuration of the committee and the committee’s powers.

In an email sent to Gentile and Phillips on Tuesday morning, less than a week after the amendment was made public, ACHSM’s executive director Ron Luce called the amendment “underhanded politics.”

Luce claims the amendment “essentially destroys any meaningful advisory committee to interact with Ohio University officials about planning for, preserving, or maintaining the Asylum Grounds (‘The Ridges’).”

Luce questions the university’s “motives” for placing this amendment into the budget bill and also questions why a state senator “far removed from Athens County is so eager to help Ohio University avoid accountability for its actions to the people of Ohio.”

The ACHSM is asking both Sen. Gentile and Rep. Phillips to do “whatever they can to either kill the amendment or to amend the amendment to something closer to the original 1988 language” that granted Ohio University the Athens Asylum property.

“I am concerned about the change in the language from the original advisory committee, and about the process. I was not contacted prior to the introduction of the amendment, which would be the normal channel for such a change,” Phillips said in an email response to ACHSM.

“I believe that the right way to proceed from here would be to conduct a stakeholder meeting to discuss the proposed committee and ensure that the concerned groups and individuals will all have an effective voice moving forward,” Phillips added.

When the Asylum Grounds were given to Ohio University in 1988 an advisory committee was specifically mandated by the state. It was to be created by the Ohio University Board of Trustees to review and make recommendations to Ohio University about a comprehensive land use plan, consider some areas for preservation and monitor implementation of the plan for The Ridges. It also was to have a continuing monitoring role and make recommendations and possible revisions to the plan.

The original 1988 language gave the power of appointment of the committee’s membership to the university’s Board of Trustees and outlined specifically what city and county groups would have representation on the committee.

The current amendment, being considered, gives the power to create the committee to the Ohio University President and not the Board of Trustees, according to ACHSM. The creation of the committee would no longer be mandatory. The President or his designee also serves as chair of the committee and names the appointees, instead of the trustees – according to the amendment.

“The amendment suggests there is no involvement on the part of the Board of Trustees of Ohio University. The president “may” or “may not” create a committee. The president will be in charge of all meetings (thus agendas, rules of order, etc.),” Luce wrote. “Though the mayor (or a designee) and one Athens County Commissioner (selected by the OU president) may be on the committee, the OU president “may” decide to disband the committee if he doesn’t like the direction of any position taken by these community leaders.”

“The OU president will appoint one to three people of his choosing as opposed to the “three or more” of the original 1988 agreement. There is nothing to keep him from choosing OU employees ‘who reside in Athens County’ for those positions,” Luce added.

“In other words,” Luce noted, “the OU president has total control, and the community only has as much input as the president finds to his personal liking.”