Police chief cites ‘threats’ stemming from Amelia petitions

By Brett Milam - Editor
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At a special meeting of the village of Amelia council on Aug. 6, residents seemed pleased with the outcome of their petitions to amend the village charter.

On July 3, Joseph Braun, village solicitor, received petitions to un-incorporate the village from residents, largely led by Renee Gerber, former council member and lead organizer around the effort through Wake Up! Amelia, which is now an official political action committee (PAC), she said.

Wake Up! Amelia was formed and drummed up petitions in response to tactics recently used by the council to pass a 1 percent earnings tax on people who live or work in the municipality.

The council approved the earnings tax during a special meeting held on Feb. 5.

At that meeting, the council voted to suspend the Ohio Revised Code’s three reading rule – intended to give citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions and potential concerns – and passed the earnings tax as an emergency.

Those petitions totaled 32 pages and included 206 signatures, calling for the “governing body to order a special election to determine if the corporate powers of the Village of Amelia, Ohio shall be surrendered.”

Braun, however, said it was his legal opinion that 64 of the signatures were invalid due to things like not listing a complete date next to a signature or for listing the county as “Cler” instead of Clermont. Additionally, according to Ordinance 26 passed on June 29 by council, the question of dissolving the village can only come up in a general election, not a special election.

Despite the flaws in the petitions, Braun recommended council decide on the issue of un-incorporating. If a two-thirds of the council voted to un-incorporate, then the petitions would move on to the Board of County Elections to potentially go on the ballot, per Ordinance 26.

However, council voted not to un-incorporate, so nothing more will happen with those petitions as they stand.

More petitions were delivered to Braun on July 25, those being the three proposed Charter amendments.

The first amendment, signed by 89 people, allowed for initiative, referendum and surrender of corporate powers. With the former, this means that residents could propose ordinances by initiative petition. Conversely, with referendum, residents could reject council’s ordinances at the polls. For the latter, residents would be able to petition to surrender the village’s corporate powers.

The second amendment, signed by 86 people, would allow for the removal of officials for cause by the voters.

The third amendment, signed by 89 people, would give a .5 percent tax reduction to all Amelia residents on any council proposed income tax. Braun rejected this proposed amendment because it violates Ohio law of a uniform tax in a municipality, but said the other two proposed amendments should move on to the Board of Elections.

Council voted to do just that, sending off the first two proposed amendments to the charter on to the Board of Elections. Until the Board of Elections looks at the proposed charter amendments and approves them, then the village is required to advance those measures to the ballot as quickly as possible; it’s unclear if the measures will make it in time for the November election, if that happens.

Gerber was all smiles after the meeting when The Sun caught up with her.

“I’m happy,” she said. “I don’t care when they go to the ballot, they’re going to the ballot.”

Another measure Gerber is looking toward is a citizen’s bill of rights.

“Because our charter, if you look at anybody else’s charters, they’re 40 and 50 pages long, our charter is 14 pages,” she said. “That’s how they get away with doing what they wanna do.”

Amelia Police Department, which right consists of five sworn officers, would be dissolved if the village was un-incorporated. The department recently put out a press release on their Facebook page in relation to the National Night Out event on Aug. 7 to let the public know about threats they’ve received.

“As you may be aware, petitions are being circulated door-to-door by a small group of people seeking to dissolve Amelia and disband the Amelia Police Department, now this small group is circulating petitions seeking to amend the Charter of Amelia as another means of dissolving the department,” the release said. “We are proud of the work we do in our community.”

In addition, the messages said the “circulation of these petitions and the rhetoric and misinformation being conveyed to the public that now have caused ‘THREATS’ to be made to your Mayor’s Office, your Council Members, your Administration and your Police Department, these threats are being taken seriously.”

The message then urged anyone in the community who knows who might be responsible for these threats to provide information to the police department.

Gerber in response to the message said Police Chief Jeff Wood was “crazy” and indicated that she had spoken to Wood the night before the meeting.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re pretty much calling us out,’” she said.

Gerber noted that her organization hasn’t actually gone door-to-door to get petitions signed.

“Us fighting for our rights is a threat to them and we knew this was going to happen,” she said.

What’s next for Gerber and her group? She said the object of our group is to give the people back their voice, so it’s whatever they want to do. We’ll start campaigning.

Gerber said they are a PAC now, so their next move is to just educate people.

Wood told The Sun in an email that the threats referenced in the press release are “currently under investigation by the Amelia Police Department and we will not comment on pending criminal investigations.”

Additionally, Wood confirmed his conversation with Gerber, relaying that Gerber told him nobody from her group made any threats.

“Mrs. Gerber said she is not in control of these people and would like us to find out who it was,” he said.

Wood also said people have a right to disagree politically with others, but “when you resort to threats of violence, it crosses a line.”

“My job is to ensure civility and make sure that no laws are broken,” Wood said.

In other news, after an uptick of public records requests, Braun also recommended to council at their July 25 meeting to authorize the mayor, Todd Hart, to hire a temporary worker to help field those public records requests. At the Aug. 6 meeting, Hart notified council that a temporary worker, who he said “comes highly recommend” from Loveland, has been found and she will start on Aug. 13.

Council member Javier Melendez resigned from council due to “personal commitments.” Melendez was appointed on Oct. 11, 2016. Council has 30 days to fill Melendez’s seat. At the Aug. 6 meeting, Hart created a committee who will select the replacement through an interview process. Three council members comprise that committee: Regina Rumke, Clayton Fite and Doug Fischer.

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By Brett Milam

Editor