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Published: Wednesday, 10/17/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Transit authority had filed lawsuit questioning proposal's ballot language

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania Township residents, and only those in the township, will vote on whether to drop out of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, a Lucas County Common Pleas judge has decided.

Judge Dean Mandros issued the ruling that dismissed TARTA’s lawsuit against the Lucas County Board of Elections. The order, issued Friday, means the opt-out question will be submitted only to voters in the unincorporated portion of Sylvania Township, not voters in the city of Sylvania.

The transit authority filed a lawsuit against the elections board in September, challenging the ballot question’s proposed language. According to TARTA officials, the lawsuit aimed to “ensure the election is proper and not subject to challenge at a later date.”

But in a nine-page opinion, Judge Mandros ruled that the elections board properly followed state law, which states the question of withdrawal from TARTA must “be submitted to electors of the territory to be withdrawn.”

“The area to be withdrawn is only the unincorporated portion of Sylvania Township,” the judge noted. “Accordingly, the court finds that [state law] as it existed at the time the resolution was adopted, clearly limits voting on the TARTA withdrawal issue to electors residing in the area to be withdrawn — here, the unincorporated territory of Sylvania Township.”

John Zeitler, Sylvania Township’s administrator, noted the township was not a party to the lawsuit; the matter was a legal issue between TARTA and the board of elections. He said the judge’s decision means township voters will get to decide whether to keep working with the transit authority, which was the intent of the trustees’ passage of the resolution to the question on the ballot.

The vote, he added, will not affect the City of Sylvania’s inclusion in TARTA.

“We felt that there was a consensus here in the township that residents wanted to vote on the issue,” he said. “We’re relieved that the court has settled this issue because [offering the choice] was the intent of our resolution.”

Judge Mandros wrote that TARTA failed to establish that it acted with “extreme diligence” when challenging the wording.

He noted that the Sylvania Township trustees approved the ballot language in June and the lawsuit was not filed until Sept. 24, two days after the elections board began mailing overseas and absentee ballots.

James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, said Tuesday the lawsuit sought to ensure the vote was carried out properly.

Although he acknowledged that TARTA finds stronger support in the city than the township, Mr. Gee said the lawsuit’s intent was to ensure clarity on the ballot language.

“We have some clarification from the decision and I don’t believe that we would plan to appeal the decision at all,” he said. “It really did not have anything to do on how the voters differed on the city and township.”

Perrysburg voters approved a TARTA opt-out resolution in March, leading to the cessation of TARTA service there last month. Along with Sylvania Township, Spencer Township has an opt-out resolution on the Nov. 6 ballot, but unlike Sylvania, Spencer has no incorporated areas.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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