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County Council splits Bath’s representation

8/18/2011 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Bath officials, residents protest change, set to take effect in 2012

DOWNTOWN AKRON — In a final vote divided by party lines, Summit County Council moved to split Bath Township between two other Council districts, effective with the 2012 elections.

The Aug. 15 action came despite the comments of several Bath officials and residents who appeared before Council to ask that their community be kept intact as Council realigns its eight districts as it does following every U.S. Census.

Council’s nine Democrat members voted in favor of the proposal and the two Republicans were against it.

Following the meeting, Bath officials said they were unhappy that their request for Council to consider an alternative plan or give the issue more time was unheeded.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Sharon Troike, Bath Township fiscal officer. “They didn’t listen to our request for this to be an open dialogue with Bath Township.”

Bath Trustee Elaina Goodrich said when Council members John Schmidt (D-District 2) and Jerry Feeman (D-District 6), along with County Executive Russ Pry, met with trustees July 18 to float the proposal, the trustees were taken aback by the idea to split the township.

“We were listening and wondering what were the repercussions,” Goodrich said.

Since then, the trustees discussed the issue at their meetings and Township Administrator Bill Snow spoke against the proposed split at County Council committee meetings Aug. 8.

An hour prior to the start of this week’s Council meeting, Bath trustees adopted a resolution against the proposal  at their regular meeting Aug. 15 [see related story on Page 6].

In addition to Troike and Goodrich, Council heard remarks from Snow, Trustee Becky Corbett, township attorney Bob Konstand, Bath Homeowners Association Vice President Darrin Kert, Bath residents Jack Saul and Jane Bechtel and Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys. All asked that Council spend more time on the decision or consider other changes.

“We’d like to stay together, avoiding the complexity of two representatives,” said Kert.

Saul, who is a professor in The University of Akron’s School of Law, said Council’s action could establish a precedent. Currently, the cities of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls have several representatives, but no townships have been split.

Schmidt defended the plan, which will see Bath’s 11 precincts split between Districts 4 (with parts of West Akron and Downtown Akron) and 5 (with Copley, Fairlawn and parts of West Akron).

“I think it’s a tweak, in my opinion,” Schmidt said.

He added that communities are often divided up for congressional districts as well.

“This is not something that is terribly unusual, folks,” Schmidt said.

Bath is currently in District 1, which showed a population increase in the 2010 U.S. Census due to growth in northern Summit County. But Districts 4 and 5, which Bath borders, lost population.

Council members countered many of the arguments made by the opponents. Having two Council representatives instead of just one would be a benefit, several said.

Nick Kostandaras (D-District 1), who currently represents Bath Township, said he “agonized on this issue” but supported the decision to split the township because he didn’t think it would be a detriment.

“Your representation will not be diminished whatsoever,” Kostandaras said.

But Councilman Bill Roemer (R-at large) expressed his disagreement with the idea.

“It’s very important that Bath be kept whole,” he said. “I do not believe this plan is appropriate for Summit County Council redistricting.”

Snow said he heard from many Bath residents who opposed the plan.

“I spent hours upon hours on the telephone,” he said.

He added that because the legislation was passed as an emergency measure, the township would not be able to put a referendum on the ballot challenging the change.

Snow said trustees would meet soon to consider what, if any, options they have to protest the realignment.

The new district lines will be in effect for those who wish to run in the 2012 General Election, when all Council district seats will be on the ballot.

In other business, Council heard an update on the county’s finances from Brian Nelsen, director of Finance and Budget.

Nelsen said overall sales tax revenues have been up, as were property transfer taxes. The county is also $1 million under budget in expenses, he added.

Council will meet for committee meetings Aug. 22 at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.

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