Middlesex, Adams residents say size of boards matters
For some residents of two Butler County townships, voting out those running city hall is a process that's just too slow.
Instead, they want to change the size of municipal boards whose members cast votes they don't like.
Opponents of the proposed changes in Adams and Middlesex say organizers of the November referendums are motivated by opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or at least to drilling in certain areas. Supporters say they are concerned about issues other than drilling.
“This is about having representatives that will listen to the community. We got the runaround from Adams supervisors. They did not hear what we had to say,” said Charles Clark of Adams, who helped organize a petition to reduce the number of supervisors in the township to three from five.
The county commissioners last week approved the Middlesex referendum and postponed a vote on the one in Adams.
“This has the potential to reset the board of commissioners,” Clark said.
Organizers of the two referendums are largely drawn from the Mars Parents group, which this year opposed a proposal by Rex Energy to drill for natural gas on the 200-acre Geyer Farm in Middlesex.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has not issued a final decision on the proposal.
The Middlesex referendum calls for increasing the number of commissioners from three to five.
Clark and others say the efforts are not exclusively about the growth of hydraulic fracturing in the area, though he and other organizers of the two referendums have spent months lobbying the Mars Area School Board and municipal officials to reject drilling on the farm, about three-quarters of a mile from school district property.
Last week, Adams supervisors voted unanimously to ask their solicitor to ask the Butler County Common Pleas Court to issue an injunction to keep the referendum off the ballot.
“It does not comply with the state constitution. This was stricken down by the courts two years ago in a Butler County case,” Mike Gallagher, Adams' solicitor, said of the ballot measure.
In 2012, Center Township residents in Butler County approved a referendum to reduce the size of its board of supervisors.
Supervisors there appealed, and a Butler County judge tossed out the referendum as unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year ruled in agreement with the supervisors.
Shari Brewer, director of Butler County's elections bureau, said the Adams referendum might be legally problematic. The state constitution states that a referendum cannot remove people from public office before their term ends, she said.
Kim Geyer, owner of the disputed drilling site in Middlesex and secretary to Butler County Commissioner Bill McCarrier, said opposition to drilling on her property is fueled by “anti-fracking transplants.”
Supporters of the referendums say government officials are now out of step with the fast-growing communities they represent.
Three Adams supervisors have been in office more than 20 years each.
“This is a function of the supervisors mistreating people. I have no idea why they behave that way,” said Clark, 46, who grew up in West Mifflin.
He said he and others were angered by what they describe as commissioners blocking a presentation about evacuations and air emissions associated with drilling. Adams supervisors declined to comment.
Brewer said the Middlesex referendum is less problematic legally, because it makes the board bigger and doesn't shorten any member's term.
“This is a rapidly growing township that has been a board of three for long time. Their point is that concerns of long term residents carry more weight,” said Crystal Yost, a referendum organizer.
Yost, 37, moved to the area from Illinois more than two years ago and is active in the Mars Parents Group, which opposes the Geyer drilling plan.
The Middlesex commissioners are not challenging the referendum, said township manager Scot Fodi.
“It offers an opportunity to distribute work among more supervisors,” he said.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.