The News-Enterprise: HCU Looking For Legal Clarification on Unification Law

Group wants to ensure a city’s majority vote will be respected

The following article by Marty Finley appeared in The News-Enterprise on August 15, 2011. The full, online version can be seen here: www.thenewsenterprise.com/content/hcu-looking-legal-clarification-unification-law

Hardin County United wants the state to clarify certain elements of the 2006 legislation enabling the creation of a unified local government before the voters of Hardin County consider the idea here.

Hardin Circuit Judge Ken Howard, chairman of the HCU governance subcommittee, said Monday the state needs to confirm the majority votes within a city is respected should a city oppose unification.

Simply put, Howard said, HCU wants to make sure residents in unincorporated areas could not force a city into unification if the majority of city residents voted against it.

Howard said he believes this sentiment was the intention of the legislation’s sponsors, but HCU needs to call on legislators to offer a clarification.

Howard also said the organization wants clarity regarding eligibility requirements for appointees to a unification review commission.

Howard said HCU plans to meet with Hardin County legislators soon to determine how the organization needs to approach the state government on the issue. Howard said some northern Kentucky counties considering unification are having similar conversations.

Luke Schmidt, a consultant to HCU whose firm conducted the unified government study, said HCU believes cities would be able to remain independent should their residents vote against unification. However, HCU wants to make sure this confusion is allayed well in advance of a vote, which could come in November 2012.

For example, Schmidt said, if five of the six cities vote to merge with the county but Vine Grove voted to remain independent, HCU wants to ensure the wishes of the town’s residents are granted.

“We want to make sure those who participate in this electoral process, their votes will be respected,” he said.

Schmidt described it as a “quick fix” that should be resolved without the intervention of the Kentucky General Assembly. If not, he continued, HCU could lobby for legislation next year to strengthen language of the legislation and remove any confusion.

Should this legislation be needed, he believes it should soar through the General Assembly with no opposition and would be enacted by July — months before the November vote.

HCU has told elected officials and local residents alike that a vote by Hardin Fiscal Court or local city councils to participate in the unification review commission simply would give governing bodies a seat at the table, but unification would have to be decided by a public vote.

Howard also said there is a need to determine who is eligible to serve on the unification review commission, a body of 20 to 40 members which would be appointed by the participating local governments and draft a charter to present to voters.

Howard said HCU initially interpreted the law to only allow non-elected officials to serve on the commission, but Howard said the term “citizen member” is only listed in the law in reference to the commission’s chairman.

Howard said HCU will need to speak with the legislation’s sponsors to determine if the ambiguity was an oversight or if elected officials can serve on the commission.

The need for clarification comes as HCU plans to meet with several governing bodies and community organizations to lobby support for the unification review commission’s creation. Last week, HCU gained support of the Hardin County Public Library Board of Trustees which voted to endorse creation of the commission. The board’s vote did not reflect an endorsement to unify governments.

But the plan has been met with some pushback in northern Hardin County as most of Radcliff City Council has expressed serious concerns about the initiative while some council members have outright opposed it.

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