Bethel village hopes to rekindle interest in charter

The Bethel Village Council is hoping that a little more time and a second attempt will result in more interest in the formation of a village charter.

The village first began examining the formation of a charter in early 2006, but a vote never came to pass on the issue, which died from a lack of interest. A charter, in a manner of speaking, allows a village to write its own constitution, helping to streamline operations and make resolving issues quicker and easier. Milford is currently the only municipality in Clermont County operating under a charter.

“This will help clean things up a little,” said councilman John Swarthout, who proposed the charter issue. “Sometimes we don’t really know what’s written in the Ohio Revised Code. We have to look it up and it’s not always clear. With the charter we can hopefully simplify and clean things up, put them the way we want them. It may not change things, but only clarify. It will help sort out who does what and some responsibilities. It will clear things up and update it.”

In February, when a public hearing was first held to discuss the charter, Swarthout said that many of the laws governing villages under the Ohio Revised Code were over 100 years old, some were vague or confusing and others simply didn’t apply to life in Bethel.

The charter concept would provide for a form of government that would spell things out better for Bethel residents. The difficulty? Making the document itself. By law, creating a charter means putting an issue on the ballot to approve or deny the creation of a charter.

To this end, a minimum of 15 residents of that municipality also have to run and be elected to serve on the charter commission, which writes the charter. Then, voters have to again go to the ballot to approve the charter, which is mailed out before the election to the electorate. Then, once the charter is approved in the election, it can take effect.

There is a maximum of one year allowed by law for all of this to happen from the time that the charter’s creation is approved by election.

“We hope that people will get interested and involved,” said Swarthout. “It’s shorter than running for office. It won’t be an overly-large burden. I anticipate a couple of meetings a month. I’m not for sure how many ran last time, I had heard it was six or seven but I don’t know if all of those petitions were valid. We have our work cut out to get enough people interested in running and working on it.”

In fact, while more than a dozen residents expressed interest in seeking a seat on the charter, the issue was abandoned in March of this year after only six filled out petitions to run for the charter commission, and only four of those resulted in valid petitions. The village is hoping to attract more residents to serve on the commission.

“It’s similar to running for any office, but this is only 25 signatures, which is less than what it normally takes,” said Swarthout.

In fact, the council has set an informational segment for their Aug. 14 meeting to discuss the charter, noting that interested parties could bring their petitions to that meeting and most likely gain the 25 signatures needed. However, as that meeting falls close to the Aug. 24 filing deadline with the board of elections, residents interested in running for the 15-member commission were encouraged to file their petitions earlier.

In all, Swarthout said that the work involved could be tedious, but not necessarily difficult. The charter could be written with the help or inspiration of other charters, which could be borrowed or modified to create a document for Bethel.

“It’s their responsibility to write the charter for council and present it to the people,” said Swarthout. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel though, there are other villages in the state with charters. We can look at those and see, we could beg and borrow from those examples. If it works, we can use it. It we don’t want it, we can change it.”