By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
There may be more than enough valid petition signatures to get a pipeline issue on Bowling Green’s ballot this November. But it’s uncertain if voters will have a chance to weigh in, since the petition may have been filed late.
The petition asks that a charter amendment be adopted in the city to prioritize people over pipelines.
All within a matter of hours today, officials believed the petition was possibly out, then possibly in – with no clear resolution.
The only certainty is that Ohio’s rules on petitioning to put an issue on the ballot are far too complicated.
Petition organizers Lisa Kochheiser and Brad Holmes, president of the Environmental Action Group at Bowling Green State University, reported that more than 1,200 signatures were collected, with at least 714 valid signatures required to get the charter amendment on the ballot.
Wednesday at 4 p.m. was the filing deadline for issues and candidates appearing on the general election in November. But the pipeline issue did not appear on the board of elections list.
Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said this morning that the petition was not filed on Wednesday, because the Ohio Revised Code requires that a charter amendment petition be held at the city for 10 days prior to it being submitted to the board of elections. The petition was turned in to the city on July 31 at 2 p.m. Since the city is required to hold onto it for public viewing for 10 days, that meant the petition could not be turned over to the Wood County Board of Elections until today at 2 p.m. – one day after the filing deadline set by the state.
“We’re certainly not trying to withhold anything or play any games” Fawcett said. The city is just following the rules established in the Ohio Revised Code, he explained. “It’s not ‘up to 10 days,’ it’s after 10 days have passed,” that the petition can be filed at the board of elections.
Initially, Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections, believed the petition was actually much further overdue. Once the petition gets to the board of elections, that entity has up to 10 days to verify the signatures and determine if there is an adequate number. The petition is then returned to the city for a final review and official submission for the ballot.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, the board of elections has 90 days after that final submission to place the issue in the next general election. The state only allows petitions on general election ballots, not any other elections throughout the year.
However, Kochheiser said that different rules apply to charter amendment petitions than to initiative petitions. Charter amendments go by different timelines, she said.
“We followed the rules very carefully. It is very confusing,” she said. “We have followed the precise procedures.”
The petition is in response to the Nexus pipeline, which organizers believe poses threats to the Bowling Green water supply, since the proposed route for the natural gas line is close to the city’s water treatment plant. The purpose of the proposed charter amendment was “recognizing and protecting community rights to a healthy environment and livable climate.”
Kochheiser planned to visit the board of elections this afternoon, “to see if we can get on the same page with this. If not, we’ll get the lawyers in on it.”
The process of getting a petition on the ballot is quite complicated, Burton agreed. The city of Rossford went through a similar situation recently when a petition failed to meet all the requirements.
“We always advise them right out of the gate to get legal counsel,” Burton said of citizens working on petitions. The board gives petitioners a handbook to outline the process, but it can be difficult for a layperson to understand.
At the end of the work day today, after rereading the Ohio Revised Code verbiage, Burton said it still was not clear if the petition was filed on time and if the charter amendment will appear on the November ballot. “I don’t know if it will be or won’t be,” he said.
“I have as much of an answer as I’m going to have today,” Burton said. “But the bottom line is, we’re going to go through the signature process as we usually do,” making sure the names are valid. The petition will then be turned back to the city for final review, where he expected legal counsel to get involved.