BY LEW MOORES
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CLEVES -- At the core of the fight over the future of Cleves are deep-seated feelings about the meaning of government that should make for a spirited campaign this fall if the petitions to place the issue on the November ballot are certified.
Proponents of dissolving the village have collected 542 signatures to place the issue on the ballot, while the group opposed says it will pore over the signatures to make sure voters in this village understood what they were signing.
"The ballgame's just started and we're ready to play," said Ron Bowling, president of Save a Village Environment (SAVE), leading the fight to keep the village intact.
Team EFFECT (Ensuring the Financial Future and Enhancing Cleves for Tomorrow) officials, who are leading the drive to dissolve the village, say they worry about people who have signed the petition being intimidated by SAVE.
"We're extremely concerned that people's constitutional rights aren't being violated by them being harassed, especially in a small-town setting," said Joe Whitton of Team EFFECT.
Team EFFECT earlier this week presented petitions with the signatures to the village; after a period of public review, the petitions will be sent on to the Hamilton County Board of Elections to be certified for the November ballot. Two-hundred, fifty-six valid signatures are needed to place the issue on the ballot.
Team EFFECT has argued in collecting the signatures that the entire village should decide on the November ballot whether to remain a village or dissolve and be assumed by surrounding Miami Township.
SAVE argues that if people do not like the way the village has been governed, village officials should be voted out of office and new officials elected.
"It's not the democratic process to end one government to go to another government," Mr. Bowling said. "If you don't like the way things are run, you run for office, then you make the changes through democracy."
Mr. Bowling said they will be meeting within the coming week to go over the names on the petitions to "be sure they know what they signed."
Those who did sign the petition can ask to have their names removed from the petition, Mr. Bowling said.
But within the past week, a new issue has been thrown into the mix: What happens to the assets of the village, should it dissolve? Gov. George Voinovich recently signed into law a bill that would give the assets of a dissolved village to the assuming township, a change in law that was sponsored by Ohio Rep. Robert L. Schuler, R-Sycamore Township, and suggested by Joe Sykes, a trustee of Miami Township.
Before the law was signed, a dissolved village's assets would have reverted to the local school district that serves the community. Mr. Sykes said the change made sense, while Mr. Schuler said there was no opposition to the change in law. But Superintendent Richard Scherer of the Three Rivers Local Schools district said they are concerned about the school district losing the money should the village dissolve.
And Team EFFECT says they will use the new law as a selling point to convince Cleves voters that dissolving the village won't mean the people who live there will lose assets, like fire equipment. Mr. Sykes said the township has remained neutral on the issue of dissolution, but "if it happens, we need to protect ourselves, and this is also a protection for the people who live in Cleves. They're going to have use of their own fire trucks. Everything is going to stay right there. It isn't going to someone else to be sold for the money."
But Mr. Scherer said the law was passed without the school district's knowledge.
"I didn't know anything about it until it was a done deal," Mr. Scherer said.
He said whether the village dissolves ordinarily would make no difference to the school district, because they would still receive their share of the property taxes and still serve the residents living there.
"Nevertheless, we clearly have a concern about the potential loss of revenue," Mr. Scherer said.