Thursday, August 19, 2004

Petition ruling 'retracted'

By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - After declaring the recreation center referendum petitions invalid Wednesday, Township Clerk Pat Williams later changed her mind and said she would make a ruling on their validity today.

Williams announced Wednesday afternoon she was throwing out petitions with nearly 3,000 signatures asking that construction of the $33 million West Chester Community and Recreation Center be placed on the November ballot.

She said petitioners failed to file a copy of the township trustees' July 13 resolution to build the center before circulating petitions, as required by law.

But when the petitioners and their Columbus attorney produced a notarized copy of the missing document, signed by Williams on July 15, she said she was "retracting" the ruling.

"Maybe I've made a big boo-boo here," said Williams, who has been township clerk for 30 years.

"I remember signing something with (referendum campaign leader) John Janszen. I know I signed something," she said.

Williams said she will look in her files today and announce whether the petitions will be forwarded to the Butler County Board of Elections.

Don McTigue, attorney for the Let Us Vote West Chester (LUV West Chester) group, which circulated petitions last month, said he would talk to Williams today.

"Maybe it's an honest mistake," said McTigue from his Columbus office.

Janszen, a community center opponent who owns the FitWorks exercise chain, was not as polite. He called Williams' rejection of the referendum part of the township's "conspiracy to deny the citizens the right to vote" on the center.

If the petitions are ruled valid, voters may have to wait 15 months - not three months - to vote on the issue, McTigue said.

By the time the elections board checked signatures, and Williams certified the ballot issue, there would not be the necessary 75 days before the November election. The issue would be held until the 2005 November general election, McTigue said.

Trustees had repeatedly said in June they had to act by July 13 for the referendum to make the Nov. 2 ballot. "We were misinformed by our staff," said Catherine Stoker, trustees president.

Trustees want to build the 172,515-square-foot center at Union Centre Boulevard and West Chester Road, across from Lakota West High School.

Money from Union Centre development will cover construction and property costs, trustees have said.


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