MOUNT VERNON — After 30 months of wrangling with officials, Darla Holtkamp and Frank Nagy are still in limbo about the maintenance of the road to their residence.
Berlin Township property owner Darla Holdkamp and her companion, Frank Nagy, have inherited an unresolved issue from the past. The legal status of Leedy Lane, once a section of the county line road which stretched from Ohio 546 to Divelbiss Road between Knox and Richland counties, has been left unresolved for nearly 100 years.
April 21, 2009
“Why should a private citizen have to spend thousands on lawyers to get a bunch of officials to do their jobs?” Nagy asked the Knox County Board of Commissioners during a meeting Thursday afternoon. The two Knox County residents live on a property just off Ohio 95 northeast of Ankenytown. What appears at first glance to be their driveway is in fact an old section of Leedy Road which was abandoned decades ago, but never officially vacated. Records show a new bridge being installed on the road in 1909, with a note suggesting additional maintenance may have taken place in 1938.
The road in question has become known as Leedy Lane to distinguish it from the original Leedy Road, which still runs along the county line. And there is the rub. As it straddles the county line, much dispute has taken place about under whose jurisdiction the road falls. Township trustees from Jefferson Township asked the Richland County engineer, Tom Beck, to vacate the road, but after considerable debate and joint meetings by the two counties, the move was voted down due to the 1909 and 1938 precendents.
Even though the legal status of the road was confirmed, though, the situation has remained largely the same, according to Holtkamp.
“We plowed the township road again this winter,” Holtkamp said. Likewise, the bridge has been neither maintained nor improved. It is a concrete culvert structure cobbled together a few years ago without engineering approval or involvement by a state contractor working on Ohio 95, who needed Leedy Lane as a place to park his equipment.
Nagy said a Jefferson Township trustee was quoted in the media as saying that they didn’t plow Leedy Lane this winter because they did not feel that the bridge was safe to cross with their snow- removal equipment. Nagy said that he has argued, pleaded, put requests in writing and even threatened legal action, but still has not been able to get an answer as to why officials aren’t doing what they are supposed to do. He said that he and Holtkamp’s residency and work both depended on access to the house and barns.
Allen Stockberger said that the commissioners did what they could do last year in defending the road’s status and voting against vacating it. He said that now it is the responsibility of the adjoining townships to do maintenance such as snow removal, and that it is the responsibility of the county engineers to maintain and/or replace the bridge. According to past agreements which may go back to 1909, Richland County’s Jefferson Township is supposed to take care of the eastern end of Leedy Road segments, while Knox’s Berlin Township is supposed to take care of the western fragments. Since the only surviving bridge card is in Knox County Engineer Jim Henry’s files, the argument has been made that Henry is responsible for upkeep of the bridge, with expenses being split 50/50.
Nagy said that neither road maintenance nor bridge maintenance is being done and that every time they attend Jefferson Township meetings or attempt to talk with Henry, they only get finger-pointing.
“Who’s in charge of the county engineer?” Nagy asked, explaining that he came to the commissioners in the belief that they oversaw the engineer.
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said that Henry is a separate elected official who does not answer to the commissioners, and that only the voters were ultimately in charge of him.
Nagy asked where would the county be if some member of the public drove off the current unrailed bridge structure, and asked if that wouldn’t be a large insurance liability issue. The commissioners said that though this was a worry, they were unaware of a way to force any action.
“You’re telling me that Mr. Henry can create a huge liability and run amok until the voters vote him out?” Nagy asked. He suggested the commissioners investigate the legal procedure known as “forced account” in the Ohio Revised Code, where statue 5589.03 gives guidelines on how commissioners can combat refusal or neglect of duty by a county engineer or township trustees. Commissioner Stockberger suggested that Nagy file to seek a writ of mandamus, which is essentially a court order instructing an official to do a job or suffer legal consequences. It was then that Nagy asked why they should have to spend large sums of money to get officials to do the jobs they are elected to do.
“We’re going to save our money for the courts,” Nagy said.
The commissioners said that they would explore the liability issue.