What do the village councils in Woodville and Gibsonburg, the Woodville Township trustees, and members of the Sandusky County Bar Association have in common?
They’re all opposed to a bill pending in the Ohio House of Representatives that would consolidate the Sandusky County Courts of Clyde and Woodville into a single municipal court.
Under consolidation, both courts would continue in their current sites, according to Rex Damschroder (R-Fremont), the sponsor of House Bill 433, but the two part-time judgeships would be combined into one full-time position.
Warren Brown, the Sandusky County administrator; Jo Ellen Cline, government relations counsel to the Ohio Supreme Court, and Judge John Kolesar, of the Clyde Court, offered testimony in favor of the merger to the House Local Government Committee, which approved the bill, paving the way for a full House vote.
But the village councils in Woodville and Gibsonburg as well as the Woodville Township trustees have passed resolutions opposing it and some local officials voiced their concerns Tuesday during a meeting of the Sandusky County Commissioners.
Gibsonburg Police Chief Michael Benton told the commissioners the process slighted officials in the west end of the county.
“Unbeknown to any official, elected or appointed throughout the west end of Sandusky County, Representative Damschroder, working apparently with a very few hand selected representatives of Sandusky County, prepared and submitted legislation authorizing the court consolidation and scheduled hearings on the matter in January 2012,” Benton said, questioning why the bill has been passed by the House committee so quickly and is poised for a floor vote in the House. “This is politics at its worst.”
The commissioners voiced support for the consolidation last year after hearing recommendations from Brown and Judge Kolesar.
Chief Benton questioned the accuracy of estimated cost savings of having one full-time judge and said the consolidation deserved a comprehensive study.
He told the commissioners copies of the resolutions by the villages and township have been sent to every member of the House along with a request to delay a vote until a study is completed and “the views of all concerned officials can be heard.”
The resolutions also contested the projected cost savings and said the change will “cause undue financial hardship on each Court’s constituent jurisdictions and will run counter to the principles of decentralization, local control and accountability upon which local government in Ohio is predicated.”
A special meeting of the county commissioners to discuss the bill further is scheduled for May 14 at 9 a.m.
A vote in the House on the bill hasn’t been scheduled, Todd Thatcher, a spokesman for Rep. Damschroder, said Wednesday.
Woodville Mayor Rich Harman was also critical of how the bill progressed from being a recommendation to the county commissioners and then to Rep. Damschroder’s office, saying local officials were not kept informed about the bill.
“We’re disappointed we had no communication,” he told The Press. “I don’t have a problem with consolidation and I don’t have a problem with trying to save money. My biggest concern is what’s going to happen next. Are we going to put both the Clyde and Woodville courts into the Fremont court system?
“We’re looking down the road and the possibility it will be in one location. That’s going to leave Clyde and Woodville in the cold.”
Brown suggested during his testimony before the House committee that further consolidation could be considered.
“In the future, should this consolidation take place, there may be the opportunity to further consolidate with Fremont to form a county-wide municipal level court. The City of Fremont has already expressed interest in the idea and this first step will move the county into a better position to begin serious discussions regarding this even more fiscally responsible measure,” he told the committee.
Last June, the Sandusky County Bar Association voted to not approve a resolution supporting the consolidation.
The county commissioners Tuesday noted there has been some discussion about the possible physical relocation of the courts but said a comprehensive efficiency study would be completed first, according to minutes of the meeting.
They said they consider the move to consolidate the part-time judgeships a separate matter.