Nelsonville Charter Repeal Initiative Declared Invalid By Council

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City Council voted Tuesday to declare as invalid an initiative petition for the November election that sought repeal the city’s charter form of government.

The vote was 5-0, with Council members Cory Taylor and Bill Hoag not at the meeting.

Council President Kevin Dotson said the initiative was rejected because there was no plan for transitioning from a charter government to a statutory government if voters supported the repeal.

The measure, if approved by voters, would have dissolved the charter government at the end of this year, but the next municipal election is not until 2017, Dotson said.

“Everything would come to a grinding halt with no plan for what would happen next,” Dotson said.

Ed Mash and Vicki McDonald, both of whom circulated the initiative petition, said the Central Committees of the political parties would pick the replacement officeholders.

Dotson said that wouldn’t work because under the current charter, city offices are nonpartisan.

However, Mash and McDonald said they believed that with repeal of the charter, the city would have reverted to the statutory government that existed at the time the charter was enacted — that the political parties that held the offices at that time would appoint the new interim officeholders.

“It doesn’t work that way,” said City Attorney Garry Hunter.

Dotson said the petitioners still have time to circulate new petitions that includes language on how the transition to a statutory government would occur.

“We’re still in the process of deciding what we want to do,” Mash said. He said options include hiring an attorney to fight Council’s action, or circulating new petitions.

McDonald said she would like some guidance from the people of Nelsonville.

“I want to hear from the citizens about how they feel and what they want,” McDonald said, in particular whether they want the charter government dissolved and if they want new petitions circulated.

The deadline for filing with the Athens County Board of Elections to get issues on the November ballot is Aug. 5. However, prior to Aug. 5 the petitioners would have to go through several steps in order to reach the point that City Council would have to — if the new petition was deemed sufficient — vote to put the issue on the ballot.

Hunter, in a memo to the clerk of Council, said that if Council rejected the petition until it was amended to include a reasonable transition period, the petitioners would have 30 days (according to the charter) to correct the petition and have it resigned.

There also is a question over how many signatures would be needed on a petition.

The circulators went by the language in the charter, which says 15 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election is required, which would be 120. The petition they submitted had 150 valid signatures.

Hunter said that when it comes to repealing a charter, it’s the Ohio Constitution — not Nelsonville’s charter — that is binding. However, he said there is conflicting language in the constitution, which at one point says the requirement is 10 percent of registered voters, which in the case of Nelsonville would amount to 258. Another section says 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the previous general election, which would be 80.

Mash said he’d like the Athens County Board of Elections to tell the petitioners how many signatures they would need. Hunter said the Ohio Secretary of State might have to rule on it.