A surprise citizens initiative petition from Johnstown residents may force the Village Council to place a charter amendment on the November ballot to allow village employees to collectively bargain in 2015.
For the initiative petition to have power, it must contain the signatures of 10 percent of the number of residents that voted in Johnstown's 2013 municipal election.
The petition, introduced during council's July 15 meeting, originally contained 235 signatures; 201 valid signatures were verified by the Licking County Board of Elections.
Lenner and other village leaders said they thought more than 2,000 residents voted in the last election, but the elections board clarified that only 704 residents voted in November 2013, making the threshold to make the initiative petition valid just 71 certified signatures.
With the verification of 201 valid signatures, council is required to introduce a resolution to place the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Council on Aug. 5 is expected to vote to place the issue on the ballot. If approved by voters, the charter change would allow village employees to pursue union representation next year.
The Ohio Revised Code has a cutoff point of 5,000 residents for communities that are required to allow collective bargaining for groups of employees. Johnstown has fewer than 4,800 residents now, Village Manager Jim Lenner said, adding that village leaders likely would be forced by growth to make the change in 2021 -- because Johnstown likely will become after city following the 2020 census verifies more than 5,000 residents.
"We were assuming in 2021, when we were verified from the census, we would collectively bargain with those employees," Lenner said.
Although Johnstown administrators said they aren't panicking about the issue yet, the unpredictability of collective bargaining could cause problems.
"(The impact) would be pure speculation right now because we don't know exactly what those numbers would be," Lenner said. "But it would change the way we would have to budget, based on the collective-bargaining agreement."
Lenner and Johnstown Village Council members said they were blindsided by the initiative petition.
Former Johnstown-Monroe High School Principal Kim Jakeway, who signed for the petition packet at the elections board, told the ThisWeek Johnstown Independent his involvement came after Johnstown police asked for it.
Jakeway said he's not leading the movement but is working on a volunteer basis with the group. He wouldn't specify who was leading the effort.
"Getting more officers out there is important," he said. "There are several members of the force who I've been in contact with, but I'm just a volunteer collecting signatures."
Johnstown Police Chief Don Corbin said he hadn't heard of any of his officers being involved.
"I haven't heard any rumors, any rumblings," he said. "I didn't know about it until Kim Jakeway brought the petition in, and I was told by the clerk. I looked at it and then later had a short conversation with (Lenner). I knew nothing about it until this point, and that's all I know."
Corbin said he didn't know of anyone on the Johnstown police force who would be a part of the movement.
"I know there were people gathering signatures for a collective-bargaining issue to be put on the ballot, but I don't know who was behind the movement," he said.
The vote in November is months away, and of course passage by village residents at the ballot box is not certain either.
But Lenner and other village leaders already are looking at the what the potential change could bring.
"It will have significant ramifications in the village if it does pass," he said. "Whether that's good or bad, time will tell. It will be interesting to see the impact."