A rift between the Jerome Township trustees over their handling of a zoning code revision and how it would affect local businesses worsened at trustees' meeting on Feb. 21.

A rift between the Jerome Township trustees over their handling of a zoning code revision and how it would affect local businesses worsened at trustees' meeting on Feb. 21.

Trustee Ron Rhodes has been an outspoken advocate for businesses on Industrial Parkway and has found himself at odds recently with trustees Andy Thomas and Bob Merkle.

Thomas asked for a resolution banning Rhodes from speaking to the township zoning commission or any other entity in the board's name.

"If you want me to preface everything I say outside of this room with, 'This is my opinion. I don't speak for the trustees,' then that is what I will do," a visibly upset Rhodes said. "But I will not be shut down and I will not stop speaking my mind."

The zoning rewrite has taken more than a year and raised concerns in the business community about M1 manufacturing requirements that could put half the township's more than 200 businesses afoul of the zoning code.

As has become customary of late at any trustees' meeting, several disgruntled members of the township business community complained about zoning administrator Kathleen Crowley and the board of trustees.

In November, Crowley sent 13 township businesses letters that said there were possible noncompliance issues and requested meetings with them all. Five businesses rectified their issues with Crowley but eight others appealed.

That appeals process has been rancorous.

"My clients have been waiting now for seven weeks for a settlement in writing," said Bill Westbrook, who represents several Industrial Parkway businesses in their dealings with the township. "That's an embarrassingly long time to wait. They've twice had to pay their lawyer to prepare for a hearing only to find out that there was no settlement."

Local businessman Phil Hochstetler told the trustees that he fears the M1 zoning "is so incredibly narrow it puts all our businesses at risk. I voted for all three of you for trustee, but I didn't vote for this."

Hochstetler criticized the trustees for paying $10,000 to an attorney for Crowley.

"Why are attorneys even involved in this? Those are my tax dollars and I think they have been foolishly spent," he said. "I have three kids and two of them work for companies on the Industrial Parkway. So for me, this is personal."

Thomas told Westbrook and Hoch-stetler that "something should have been put in place (with the appeals settlement) long before seven weeks. I know the lawyer (Gordon Shuler) was sick, but that was three weeks ago."

After the meetings, Rhodes was still bristling.

"I speak for myself. I don't know what the others (Merkle and Thomas) are thinking because they don't let me in on it," he said. "We've been messing with good people and it's not fair. As a board, yes, we've let down the business community in the township."