By William Kincaid
ROCKFORD -- Village Treasurer/Clerk Amy Lyons will be able to keep her job, as her petition to have land for a home annexed in Rockford was narrowly approved Tuesday night during its third and final reading.
The approval comes after councilors initially rejected the petition during a second reading in March.
During the Tuesday meeting, council listened to Mayor Bob King read a letter from Rockford Physician Jerry Sell urging members to support the annexation. Herb Muhlenkamp, the village tax administrator and a former Mercer County commissioner, also lectured about the benefits and financial plausibility of expanding the village.
Councilor Joe Felver, who initially voted against the annexation, changed his mind and voted yes along with council members Eugene Steiner and Greg Pontsler. Councilors Randy Gutierezz, Ron Searight and Amy Joseph once again vote no.
Because the vote was tied, King was forced to intervene, as he cast the decisive yes vote -- thus authorizing the annexation. Amy Lyons and her husband, Tom, own property on Rockford West Road that they have wanted annexed into the village before they construct a new home there. Because Lyons is an elected official, she must reside within the village according to state law.
During the March 21 meeting, the annexation request was defeated on its second reading. However, no one seemed to know whether the reading would continue to a third reading, including village attorney Judy Koesters.
Koesters, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting because of a prior family commitment, wrote council a letter recommending that the resolution be read again for a third reading.
"Ohio law further states that unless council votes to not move legislation through the three readings, a vote by council in favor or against the legislation shall be made after the third reading," she wrote. "That implies that any vote in support of or against the legislation prior to the third reading can be considered meaningless or of no purpose."
But before council made the final vote, they listened to the letter from Sell and the presentation from Muhlenkamp.
"I am writing to express concern over what appears to me an erroneous approach to the growth and expansion of the village of Rockford," wrote Sell, a physician in the community for the past 27 years.
Sell wrote that the decision not to annex property to the village seems contrary to council's recent interest in community development. The council, according to Sell, should take all means possible to facilitate expansion.
Sell wrote the idea of a village doctor may be as obsolete as a local pharmacy, which "is now only a distant memory," unless the village continues to develop and "get someone to come and live in the community."
"If the council is not proactive there will be no groundwork in place to accommodate this," Sell wrote about commercial development. "I urge you to put aside personal interest that may conflict with doing the right thing for the community."
Muhlenkamp, who was a county commissioner for eight years, told council they must have an all-encompassing plan for the future direction of the village.
"The community is either growing and expanding or dying," he told council.
Because of geographical obstacles such as the river, Rockford can only expand either west or south, Muhlenkamp said.
"You got to have a plan -- a long-term plan of where you want to go," he added.
He said council should not make a decision on annexation based on the property owner. Although the property owner may move some day, the property would become a permanent part of the village and an indicator to outsiders that Rockford is alive and growing, he said.
"You got to keep moving towards overall goals," he said. "Present a united front to the press and public."
Gutierezz then accused Muhlenkamp of "powder coating" or "simply covering up problems."
Muhlenkamp responded, saying he was talking about working around or finding detours to obstacles, "not covering up something that's wrong."
Muhlenkamp then advised council to use "sufficient, accurate data" to make the tough decisions they were elected to do.
"Have the facts in line," he said.