Brian Ebersole, the man leading a battle to stop a Powell housing development, had a testy exchange Monday with an attorney representing four city residents who hope to quash the effort and keep a referendum off the Nov. 3 ballot.
At several points during a protest hearing at the Delaware County Board of Elections, Ebersole complained about the line of questioning from attorney Corey Columbo, and called the entire process “a witch hunt.”
“This is a fishing expedition,” Ebersole said during the hearing over whether a referendum designed to reverse zoning approved earlier this year to make way for a 47-unit condominium development at the site of the former Powder Room shooting range should be placed before voters.
City residents Leonard Pivar, Patricia E. Kijewski, Gertrude Towbridge and Thomas Allen Ewers claim that circulators of the part-petitions made several fatal errors that should prevent the ballot measure from being certified for the Nov. 3 election.
According to documents filed with the board of elections, the city residents opposed to the ballot measure say there is evidence to suggest that in at least some cases the ordinance approved by Powell City Council to make way for the development was not attached to the documents circulated; signatures pages were inappropriately added to part-petitions; circulators knowingly allowed a petition signer to also sign the name of his spouse; signers failed to include their proper precincts; and some circulators misconstrued the nature of the development.
Ebersole, who collected 249 signatures, denied any wrongdoing. Overall, 637 signatures were validated.
However, Vickie Willard, a forensic document examiner with 34 years of experience, testified that a part-petition circulated by another opponent of the development contained two signatures that she determined have “high degree of probability” of being penned by the same individual.
Under Ohio law, if a petition circulator knowingly allows someone to sign another’s name or does not witness the signing of the document, the entire part-petition can be invalidated.
Sue Ross, the recently retired city of Powell, also testified that on nearly every part-petition submitted, the signature pages were “worn,” while the copy of the ordinance looked “pristine.” She said it was so unusual she took pictures of each part-petition.
“I noted that the top part looked as if it had been passed – it was dog-eared and worn – and the bottom half was not,” she said.
No decision was made Monday. The board of elections will continue the protest hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday. No matter the board’s decision, at least one member believes it will not be the final word on the matter.
“We’re merely a stopping-off place on the way to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Ed Helvey.
A similar referendum to prevent a “high-density” development was ordered on the ballot last November by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.