The Athens County Board of Elections voted Tuesday to reject a petition from residents of Coolville seeking to dissolve the corporate powers of the village, after the board director said the petition process and submission contained multiple errors.
Athens County Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey said the petitioners violated many requirements to successfully file for a valid ballot initiative, including failing to fill out the circulator’s statement correctly and declaring too many petition circulators.
A petition circulator is a campaign worker who asks voters to sign a petition to place a ballot initiative, referendum, recall, or candidate on the ballot.
Circulators also failed to compile “part-petitions,” or separate sheets from the main petition, correctly, which Quivey said meant it was compiled incorrectly.
Quivey also produced a written opinion from Athens County Assistant Prosecutor Kirk Shaw, who agreed with Quivey’s assessment that the petition was not filed under correct procedures.
“It is my opinion that the petition submitted to the Board of Election (sic) … is deficient in statutory requirements mandated for petitions, particularly regarding the circulator’s statement,” Shaw said.
Shaw said that the law mandates a singular “circulator,” and that a circulator statement accompanies each part petition and the Coolville part petition has three signatures only on the final page.
The listed circulators on the petition could not be reached for comment, nor could the administrator of the “Dissolution of the Village of Coolville Council” Facebook page.
However, Quivey said she had spoken to the filer, Ronald Nickoson, and said he was “understanding,” about why the petition was rejected.
The petition was originally filed in Fall 2020, Quivey said, past the deadline to be included in that year’s general election. Quivey also added the initiative could not have been put on the ballot for the May primary.
Board of Elections member Gary Van Meter said he did not want to reject the petition initially, but after reviewing the errors in filing, he said he had no choice.
“In the democratic process, when I first heard what was going on, I thought ‘you know, this is really taking away people’s right to petition,’” Van Meter said. “But as I studied what was here, I realized the deficiencies and I realized that I had no choice but to vote against it.”
Van Meter said he wanted to make it clear he was not voting against the ballot measure, but the process the petitioners filed. He added they may still have a chance to get a correct petition on the general election ballot.
“I’m really surprised they entered into something like this without an attorney that specializes in election law — because I mean it’s complicated,” Van Meter said.
Roxanna Chiki, mayor pro tempore of Coolville, was present at the meeting. She expressed relief the petition was rejected.
“I’m just happy to hear we don’t have to deal with this right yet,” Chiki said.
“Well, we aim to please,” Kate McGuckin, chair of the board said.
She said she believed that some residents of the village were seeking to dissolve primarily in retribution against the village council, which she said has had to make difficult decisions regarding utility rates in recent years.
Chiki said the village raised water rates last year, after having a study done that said they should raise their rates, and village members were very upset about the raise. She said the rate increase was necessary because the village was in debt $20,000 to its water provider.
“So I think that is the main kernel that started the whole thing,” Chiki said.
“I see this petition as a political thing more than a ‘we want to get rid of this village thing,’” Chiki said.
Several Ohio villages have in recent years sought, sometimes successfully, to disband their village. In 2019, the town of Amelia in Clermont County voted to disband their corporate status in order to avoid village income taxes.
However, Coolville has no income tax, Chiki said.
When a village dissolves itself, the jurisdiction returns to the township the village is in. In Coolville, the administration would be deferred to Troy Township if corporate powers are dissolved.
14 villages have disbanded in the past 17 years, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Chiki, who did not sign the petition and said she would not have even if she were not an elected official, said she does not believe a ballot initiative to dissolve the village would be successful.
Chiki said she only gets a $100 stipend a month, so if the village were dissolved, it would not break her “financial picture,” illustrating that she believes she does not have a major financial stake in defending the village status.
“They may get enough signatures to get there, but I don’t think people of the village would really like to get rid of 200 years of history and pride in your community,” Chiki said.