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Township trustee tells ORRD there is more to do

PICKERINGTON – A lot’s been accomplished against very difficult odds, but there’s plenty left to do, said Liberty Township Trustee Nancy Montell, who spoke to members of the Ohioans for Responsible Rural Development citizen’s group Tuesday night at the Pickerington Church of Christ.

ORRD members invite local government officials to speak at the group’s meetings regularly. Montell was the sole speaker and no alternative points of view were presented at this particular meeting. She has been a controversial figure since promising to end what she called the “Good Ol’ Boy” style of township government when she and Trustee Tim Linkhorn were elected 2005. They defeated incumbents Dave Keller and Keith Taylor. Montell and Linkhorn serve with Trustee Ivan Ety, who was already in office.

“I didn’t realize how difficult sitting at the head table would be,” said Montell, who was very active in township politics and an ORRD member before she was elected. Of her promise to “infiltrate the Good Ol’ Boy club,” she said, “I did.”

Montell read a list of township accomplishments since 2005, including among others:

• Closed an underground storage tank issue at 816 West Market Street that was open since 1996.

• Opened dialogue with Fairfield County Regional Planning, the Ohio Township Association, Baltimore, the County Engineer’s Office, and the Fairfield County prosecuting attorney.

• Montell said Zoning Inspector and Administrator Tom Spring wrote several resolutions in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code for the township’s benefit, such as noise restrictions, Ohio Fire Board Insurance, and naming a person (besides the trustees) to receive a first emergency call from the Fairfield County Sheriff. “The road crew is a good group of guys,” said Montell. “Now they have a first call person.”

• Developed the first joint debris management plan with Baltimore-the township and the village help each other clean up debris following a storm or natural disaster-and presented it to the Fairfield County Emergency Management Agency. “It serves as a model for other townships,” said Montell.

• Revamped the zoning files and entered them on a computer for cross-reference.

Montell said when she and Linkhorn took office, neither had access to a key to open zoning file drawers and access records; the township office had no computer at that time, she said, adding that zoning was in disarray. “It’s not like that any more,” said Montell. She said that particularly prior to 2005, some township residents thought much of the zoning was “going on under the table.”

Montell said she still meets with resistance occasionally, including prank calls. She said she once received a call about a woman who was traveling on Bickel Church Road in a motorized wheelchair. The woman hit a pothole and tipped over, injuring her elbow. The caller said the woman didn’t contact the township directly because she was worried about “retribution from the trustees.” Montell said that not only did she learn there was no woman in a motorized wheelchair on Bickel Church Road, but “it was one of our very own who called.” Montell wouldn’t say who the caller was.

ORRD spokesman Dempsey Ohlinger asked Montell if Tom Spring, who was hired shortly after Montell and Linkhorn took office, should be full-time inspector and administrator instead of part-time as he is now. Maybe eventually, said Montell, but a full-time zoning inspector is not in the township’s current budget.

Linkhorn said previously that Spring makes about $35,000 per year for the two positions combined and he works roughly 30 hours per week.

Montell said Tuesday that she expects the township will be “struggling” financially in 2011 when state law regarding townships changes, but she wasn’t specific.

Montell was clear that no township zoning inspector has the authority to shut down a business that’s operating in a residentially zoned area, presumably responding to some criticism that the township did not force the HydroMaster Seeding Co. to stop its operations when it was found to be operating outside of commercial zoning. A township zoning inspector may only issue a stop work order; the county prosecutor has the authority to shut down an improperly zoned business. HydroMaster eventually moved its operations. Montell said she believes the township illegally forced township resident Bob Badgley to move his photography business from his home approximately five years ago.

Montell said anything in township zoning may be challenged legally, but frivolous law suits “really mess up the process.” Instead, she suggests trying to work out zoning issues diplomatically with the township before calling a lawyer. Montell hopes Liberty Township will have a land use plan next year.

Spring is scheduled to be the guest speaker at ORRD’s Jan. 6, 2009 meeting.

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