Bethel Twp. trustees file challenge of election decision after missing deadline

Residents in the Miami County jurisdiction wanted a public referendum on whether 60 acres of land should be rezoned

TROY — Bethel Twp. trustees Donald Black and Beth van Haaren filed protest petitions with the Miami County Board of Elections on Tuesday, challenging the board’s decision to keep a township rezoning referendum off the May election ballot.

A board hearing of those protests was tentatively scheduled for Feb. 22.

The elections board voted Feb. 8 to reject the proposed referendum petitions for the May ballot after finding that the township failed to file the referendum paperwork by the deadline set in the Ohio Revised Code.

The referendum petitions targeted the rezoning of 60.457 acres owned by D.A. Bowman Construction from A-2 agriculture to R-1AAA residential. The land is located at Dayton Brandt and Agenbroad roads.

A group of township residents circulated the petitions last fall after trustees had approved the rezoning. Documents provided by the board of elections stated the petitions were delivered by residents to the township on Nov. 22, giving the township 14 days to certify the petitions to the board of elections.

Residents calling for the referendum said they were looking for the best way to challenge the board vote.

In his protest letter, Black wrote, “Even though I realize that the Bethel Township Board of Trustees certified the petition two days late, I feel that this decision denies our residents their due process and democratic procedure.”

He pointed to the ORC section that states the election board’s role is to determine the sufficiency and validity of each petition certified to it by the trustees. “I don’t feel that BOE’s scope should be to determine if the Bethel Townships Trustees were on time or not,” Black wrote. “I feel that the scope of the BOE should determine if the petition itself is valid or meets the requirements. The citizens of Bethel Township should not be punished for a mistake of the Bethel Township Board of Trustees.”

Van Haaren made a similar argument in her protest letter. “The right to petition and hold referendums is a fundamental aspect of our democracy, and it is essential that we uphold these rights. I believe that the petitioners met all the necessary requirements should be granted the opportunity to have their issue placed on the ballot,” she wrote.

Trustee Julie Reese, responding to an email on Tuesday, didn’t address the township failure to file the petitions on time. She questioned the rationale behind the code requiring trustees, who approved the rezoning to begin with, to approve a referendum of their vote and submit it to the board of elections.

The township has not provided an explanation as to why the petitions were filed late.

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