Plans by Geauga County Commissioners to move their and other county offices out of the city of Chardon is likely to be legally challenged by the city of Chardon.
In a letter Tuesday to Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz, attorneys for the city stated their legal case for opposing the county’s plans.
Commissioners are expected to hire a manager at risk for the project this week that will entail moving the commissioners’ offices, the title division of the clerk of courts, the board of elections and county health district to a site in Claridon Township off Merritt Road.
The city contends that would violate Ohio law.
“The decision to remove all of the county commissioner’s offices from the county seat is unlawful and not authorized by the Ohio Revised Code,”said attorney Stephen Funk, with Roetzel and Andress LPA, an Akron firm hired by the city.
“On behalf of the city of Chardon, therefore, I am writing to place you and the county commissioners on notice that the city objects to the proposed relocation of the commissioners’ offices from the county seat, and believes that it is not lawfully permitted under Ohio law,” Mr. Funk wrote.
Mr. Funk wrote that Chardon has long been the county seat of Geauga County and that a process involving a petition to state legislators as well as a vote of the people of the county is necessary to move the county seat.
“In particular, Ohio Constitution, Article II, Section 30, which provides that ‘all laws creating new counties, changing county lines, or removing county seats, shall, before taking effect, be submitted to the electors of the several counties to be affect thereby, at the next general election after the passage thereof; and be adopted by a majority of all electors voting at such election, in each of said counties.”
Mr. Funk also points to state laws adopted by legislators that requires “submission of petition that must be approved by the General Assembly and then submitted to the electors for approval.”
“Any attempt to relocate the county seat, therefore, must be submitted to the electors for approval,” Mr. Funk wrote.
Mr. Funk noted that the county prosecutor recently obtained an Ohio Attorney General opinion which addresses whether the county may relocate the board of elections, clerk of courts and health district outside the county seat. He notes, however, that the opinion does not address moving county commissioners’ offices.
“The Attorney General opinion, therefore, does not analyze the specific statutes that govern when and under what circumstances that the board of commissioners may relocate their office to a new location outside of the county seat,” he wrote.
Mr. Funk cites three provisions in the law that he contends shows the commissioners must retain an office in the county seat. Two of those laws only permit commissioners to relocate one or more of their regular and special “sessions” at alternative locations outside of the county seat, and then “only if there is a properly-adopted resolution and reasonable public notice of the action.”
He wrote that none of those laws allow commissioners to relocate their office outside the county seat.
“We note that no court has ever held that a board of county commissioners may vote to remove the commissioners’ offices from the county seat,” Mr. Funk wrote.
“Based upon our research, in fact, all of the county commissioners (or the county executives in charter counties) maintain an office in the county seat in all 88 counties of Ohio. If the county commissioners were to move forward with their proposed plan, therefore, Geauga County would become the first county in Ohio where the county commissioners did not maintain any office in the county seat.
“For all of these reasons, therefore, it is the city of Chardon’s position that the Geauga County Board of County Commissioners lacks the statutory authority to relocate their office to a new location outside of the county seat. We respectfully request that the board therefore consider the city’s legal position in deciding whether to move forward with its proposed construction project.”