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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2008

Waterville petition seeks changed nomination procedure for village council

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Waterville Village Council has accepted a petition seeking to amend the ordinance governing appointments to the village's Historic District Commission.

The proposed change would allow a member of council to make a nomination to the Historic District Commission if council had not approved an appointment by the mayor within 60 days of a vacancy occurring.

The petition is the latest development in a standoff between Mayor Derek Merrin and council over appointments to commissions and committees in general and the Historic District Commission in particular.

"It's a simple power grab, and everybody knows it," the mayor said of the proposal after the council meeting last week.

Seven residents collected 100 signatures, said Phyllis Hyder, a village resident and activist who presented the petition to council members.

Waterville's charter assigns these appointments to the mayor, subject to council approval. These panels generally consist of two council members and volunteer residents, many of whom bring professional expertise to a committee's area of responsibility.

In May, council rejected Mr. Merrin's choice for a Historic District Commission slot. She was Peggy Ross, a longtime Waterville resident and proprietor of Peggy's Ceramics on North Third Street.

Ms. Ross would have replaced Christine Lonsway, who lives in a historic home on the Maumee River and whose term had expired. Ms. Lonsway's supporters, including Mrs. Hyder, made the case that she was more qualified than Ms. Ross because she owned property in the historic district and lived there.

"There has been a vacancy on the commission for six months now, and there appears to be a stalemate in filling this position," Mrs. Hyder told council when she submitted the petition.

"No candidate has been brought forth that has been approved by a simple majority of the council. What's more, this dysfunctional process will inevitably begin all over again in January, when two more terms have expired."

Mr. Merrin said any stalemate was not his fault.

He blames council intransigence for the deadlock over appointments to the Historic District Commission. He said he offered to appoint Ms. Lonsway to the body in January in return for the confirmation of Ms. Ross now.

"They are absolutely unwilling to compromise," Mr. Merrin said.

He noted his first nominee, Harold Myers, dropped out when told that council wouldn't confirm him - "I have put up two people they have rejected."

Mr. Merrin took office in January and has raised hackles by setting out to replace veteran committee and commission members, some of whom have served for many years, with his own slate of appointees.

So far, 21 of his new appointments have been confirmed, he said.

Councilman Ann Cherry, who supports the goal of the petitioners, said a majority of council wanted Ms. Lonsway appointed now.

"She has the experience. He can appoint Peggy in January," she explained, also after the meeting.

Mrs. Cherry denied that the petition was an attempt to usurp mayoral authority. "This is a right of citizens. It's the basis of our constitution," she added.

At the meeting, Councilman Tim Guzman thanked Mrs. Hyder for her petition effort. "We're hearing what you're asking for," he said.

With a 5-2 vote, council referred the petition to the village's Planning Commission for study. The no votes were cast by Mr. Merrin and Councilman Jeff Marty, the mayor's sole ally on council on the appointment issue. Waterville's mayor participates in council votes.

The petition was sent there because the Historic District Overlay Ordinance, as it is called, is part of the planning and zoning code.

It was adopted a few years ago so the village could apply for a $400,000 downtown improvement grant, an application that was successful.

To be enacted, the amendment must go through the same process as a zoning-change request, Waterville Administrator Jim Bagdonas said.

Adoption of the change by council would require four votes if the Planning Commission recommended approval and six votes if it recommended denial of the petitioners' request.

The measure would be assured of passage if the Planning Commission issued a favorable recommendation and doomed if it urged rejection.

In other action at the meeting:

•Mr. Merrin continued his policy of honoring Waterville military veterans by issuing certificates of commendation to former Marines Bud Lerch and Don Simpson, both of whom fought in storied battles: Mr. Lerch at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950 and Mr. Simpson at Iwo Jima in 1945.

•Council approved an ordinance setting a 45 mph speed limit for Waterville-Monclova Road between a point 200 feet north of Farmview Drive and Dutch Road.

•Council authorized the administrator to award a $74,000 contract to Henry W. Bergman Inc. to rebuild the tennis and basketball courts in Baer Park.

•Council referred zoning-change requests for 18.29 acres in the Villages at Waterville Landing development from R-3 to C-3 and 33.67 acres from R-2 to R-4 to the Planning Commission.



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