Gravel pathway is focus of dispute

Published 9:13 am Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Fayette Township Trustee is calling it political, but Lawrence County Engineer Doug Cade says all he wants is for the county to follow the law and keep it from any liability.

Now Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson has been asked to decide if putting down 20 feet of gravel along Burlington-Macedonia Road was legal.

Last week Lawrence County Commissioners approved Fayette Township Trustee Mike Finley’s plan to make a pathway parallel to Burlington-Macedonia Road. Finley had come to a commission meeting two weeks earlier with Scott Mann, pastor of Burlington Wesleyan Church. Both men said they were concerned for the safety of those in the area who are in wheelchairs or pushing baby strollers as they walk down the middle of Burlington-Macedonia Road.

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“It is a safety issue,” Mann told the commissioners at that time.

Since then gravel has been laid along the edge of the roadway creating another pathway.

However, that work was done without consulting Cade, who in a letter written on Friday to Anderson said that is in violation of certain sections of the Ohio Revised Code.

“It is my understanding that the board of commissioners were presented with a section of ORC 571.01 that may have misled them into believing the board of trustees has the authority to construct road improvements on county roads,” Cade wrote. “However ORC 5573.01 is very clear that only the county engineer has the authority to develop plans and specifications for the construction of any road improvement for county and township roads.”

Cade said no one officially had contacted him about the project or applied for a permit that is required since the work is on a county right of way.

“I am probably more disappointed that the commissioners overstepped their authority over what the authority of the county engineer is than I am about the project,” Cade said. “We have to follow proper procedures, building something that is safe for public use, not just putting down rock.”

In his letter the engineer said the project was constructed within the county’s right of way by the Fayette trustees using township equipment, labor and material.

“… and without following any minimum local, state or federal standards,” the letter stated. “I believe this has led to potential liability of this office and the county should an unfortunate accident or taxpayer wish to pursue the issue.”

However, Finley disputes that statement saying there were no public funds, material or labor used on the project. Rather the issue is what he calls a ploy of fellow trustee Perry Brock.

Both Brock and Finley are up for re-election for the two open seats on the board of trustees. Also vying for a seat is newcomer Travis Wise, who in this election has been campaigning with Brock including sharing campaign sign space.

“What I read in the Ohio Revised Code is that the trustees have the right,” Finley said. “Doug is saying it is different. The commission agreed with me. It is a safety hazard. There is nothing wrong with the pathway, taking people out of the middle of the road and putting them in the side road.”

Before starting the project, Finley said he got the opinion of another attorney, who said the trustees had the right to construct the pathway. Finley declined to give the name of that attorney.

“I believe (Brock) is scared for his job,” he said. “I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. It was the right thing. What I did was correct.”

On the other hand Brock said he is not against the project, but wanted it done after consulting with the county engineer.

“I wanted to table it until we met with the commission and the engineer to make sure it was legal to do,” Brock said. “I was never against the idea. I just wanted to make sure it was done properly. I don’t think it is a political move. We are representing people of the township and do it within the law. If you read the ORC, we were not within the law. We should have gone to the engineer. The township should go to the engineer on the design and cost of the project like this. This is part of his job. We are to request this of the engineer. That is the law.”

At its Tuesday work session, Cade told the commissioners he was seeking a prosecutor’s opinion. Commission President Bill Pratt then contacted Anderson to ask if the commissioners could have the opinion by its regular meeting today.

However that meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.

Anderson expects the earliest the prosecutor’s opinion would be issued would be next week.