No change to merger law on the horizon


State Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl has decided not to purse any changes to the state’s law that allows two political subdivisions to merge.

Ruhl researched the law at the request of the village of Galena, which was threatened with a merger by two Berkshire Township residents earlier this year. Ruhl, however, ultimately decided no changes to the law are necessary.

“Nobody that I could find in the state of Ohio has ever utilized that law,” she said.

The current law “provides a clear means for a minuscule minority of residents to usurp the authority of village government and to actually hamper the orderly function of village government for up to a year or two,” village officials wrote in a letter to Ruhl.

The two township residents who initiated the process – Susan Stanton and Shawna Burkham – allegedly told village officials that their aim was to prevent annexations of land from the township into the village of Sunbury. They, however, have said publicly that they wanted to explore the possibility of a merger because it could be in the best interest of both entities.

Village officials unanimously opposed the proposal, saying it would sap power from the village. The plans have since been abandoned.

“We appreciate Representative Ruhl’s investigation into the village of Galena merger concerns,” said Galena Administrator Jeanna Burrell. “Our issue was not with the ability to pursue a merger or the petition and voting process. Our concern was that it could be used for nefarious purposes, as it was in our case. The Berkshire Township residents behind the merger effort had their own goals in mind with no regard for the impact on the village or on property owners’ rights.

“The fact that it could interfere with village business for several years was of no concern to them. While they stated they wanted to open a dialogue, they expressed to us that they wanted the process kept secret. You can initiate an open, public dialogue without a ballot petition but that was rejected. Mrs. Ruhl’s research showed that this merger ballot process has been threatened several time but never actually used in Ohio so we understand why she is not moving forward with revising this law.”

In response to the effort to merge the two entities, Galena Village Council has considered a proposal to withdraw from Berkshire Township.