2008-03-22 / News

Church, state separation questioned

By Scott Rawdon

KIRKERSVILLE - Separation of church and state is difficultwhen council meetings and worship services take place in the same room.

Former Kirkersville Village Council member Debbie Seymour criticized village council March 5 for failing to remove all church service accessories before the council meeting; a church flagremained standing next to the council bench throughout the council meeting. The Crossway Community Church holds worship services in the town hall, which formerly was a church.

Mayor Terry Ashcraft told Solicitor Deborah Kenney McBride she should research the issue. However, when Seymour asked Kenney McBride if she were working for the council or for the residents, Kenney McBride delayed answering for a few moments - there's a history of tension between Seymour, Kenney McBride, and former mayor Bennie Evans who now serves as a council member. He didn't acknowledge Seymour at first, either. Kenney McBride answered that she represents council. So, if a resident calls the solicitor, the solicitor is not obligated to answer the resident, Seymour asked. Technically, said Kenney McBride, no.

In other council news:

• Council Clerk Johnny Adkins announced the village received a citizens' referendum to place passage of a public water ordinance on the public ballot. The ordinance, passed during the Feb. 6 council meeting, allows the village to enter into an agreement with Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District to provide public water only to Phase I--properties along Ohio 158, including the Flying J Truck Stop, Phantom Fireworks, Kirkersville Elementary School, and several parcels proposed for development. The businesses and developers would pay for the majority of the Phase I infrastructure.

Previously, Village Engineer Gary Silcott was clear that the ordinance only approved Phase I and allowed Southwest Licking to drop the district's $4,500 tap fee for anyone else in the village who eventually may want public water.

In order for the village to enter into Phase II, which would provide public water to the rest of the village, council would need to pass a separate ordinance.

Licking County Board of Elections Director Jay Morrow said March 10 that his officehad yet to receive the referendum information, but, if all the necessary signatures are valid, the referendum will appear on the November ballot.

• Kenney McBride stood behind her opinion that there was no conflict of interest in council's appointment of Evans. Ashcraft, who was mayor previously, defeated incumbent Evans in the November 2007 election. However, Evans was appointed to council to fulfillthe two remaining years of former council member Bobbi Miller's term. Miller and her family moved out of state at the beginning of the year.

Kenney McBride said previously that Miller's letter of resignation suggested Evans replace her, and council agreed. Kenney McBride said village councils have 30 days to appoint whomever they choose to fill council vacancies. Since Evans was no longer mayor as of Jan. 1 and Miller's resignation was effective Dec. 31, there's no law that prevented appointing Evans to council once Miller's position was open, she said.

Kenney McBride said a Buckeye Lake Beacon reporter sent information provided by the Ohio Attorney General's officeto Licking County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tony Stocco. The information, taken from the Ohio Revised Code, suggested there may be some question as to the appointment's validity, but the information was not an officialopinion from the attorney general's office.Kenney McBride said she spoke with Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt at length, who agreed that Miller clearly intended to resign her post at the end of the year, and Evans' term clearly concluded at the end of the year. "No, it doesn't conflict,"said Kenney McBride. Despite Oswalt's opinion, Ashcraft asked Kenney McBride to contact the attorney general's officefor an opinion as well.

Seymour said council's decision to appoint Evans after he lost the general election was an insult.

• Police Chief Robert Chamberlain said one of the village police cruisers is "out of commission" with a "grinding noise" and the other cruiser needed tires and battery. Adkins said there was no money remaining in the repair fund to fix the grinding noise since the village paid $2,000 to repair a cruiser from an earlier accident. Council agreed to appropriate $125 for a battery and tires for the functioning cruiser.

• Council reviewed renewing the village's contract with Silcott. Ashcraft said the contract will be discussed further at the next council meeting.

• Council contracted the Hoskinson Co. to complete berm work along SR 158 for $2,550 and to repair potholes on village streets (including Keller Road) for an additional $2,900. A contract for $1,600 to repair South Alley was not approved, although residents Carolyn Woods said the alley greatly needs repair.

Evans asked council why the village can't repair the village's ailing service truck and have village employees do the work. Ashcraft said the village truck is not running and the village employee is part-time.

Street Supervisor Mike Cloud said the truck could be usable this winter, but the village needs to buy a new one. Ashcraft said the truck was used in January. Cloud suggested taking the existing truck to a garage for evaluation. "You have a safety issue," he said.

Evans thought the village was paying Hoskinson a lot of money to do the work and should finda way for it to be completed in-house.

Council member Gary Raines agreed that Quality Automotive on US 40 should analyze the existing truck before any decision is made about buying a new one.

• Adkins is resigning his position as clerk, effective March 31. Ashcraft said council has yet to decide who will replace him. Council may announce a replacement at the next council meeting, or council may hold a special meeting earlier.

Also, OfficerChris Martin, who is a paid officer,resigned as well. Ashcraft said council has yet to name his successor, although Chamberlain suggested auxiliary officerMatthew Senchhuom.

• Crossway Community Church Pastor Glen Gram again offered to purchase the Village Hall from Kirkersville to be used exclusively as a church, but council took no action. Kenney McBride said the village would need to sell the Village Hall to the general public first, not a specific buyer, were council to agree. Ashcraft said there are currently no plans to sell the hall.

• Adkins said the Appalachian Geophysical Survey Co. wants to conduct a seismic survey near the sewer plant. The company would be testing for underground natural resources, such as minerals or petroleum. There would be no digging; a truck outfittedwith something similar to a giant hammer would pound the ground and record the vibrations. Council agreed. "Maybe if they findoil, we'll all get rich," Adkins joked.

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