Three Franklin County residents, including a candidate for county commissioner, filed a lawsuit against the county commission Thursday over an order authorizing the refinancing of tens of millions of dollars in certificates of participation, or COPs.
The legal action, which sought to block the order, was denied the same day by Franklin County Associate Circuit Court Judge Stan Williams on procedural grounds.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said Friday that while the injunction for immediate relief was denied, the lawsuit isn’t technically dismissed and that he plans on filing a response to the lawsuit next week.
The plaintiffs, Eric Reichert and Art LeBeau, both of Villa Ridge, and Ron Keeven, New Haven, are vocal critics of the commissioners who attend county meetings and working sessions.
Keeven is a candidate for First District commissioner. He will face incumbent Terry Wilson and several other Republicans in the August primary.
The county commission passed Order 2012-117 Thursday authorizing the county to pursue replacing its existing COPs with new leasehold bonds at a lower interest rate. The order authorizes Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer to sign certain documents related to the refinancing process.
The lawsuit contends that the commission has no power to designate the presiding commissioner specifically with the ability to sign documents on behalf of the commission on his own.
The commission regularly approves orders for contracts that authorize the presiding commissioner to serve as the county’s official representative. Vincent said that is standard protocol for county commissions across the state.
LeBeau has repeatedly told commissioners during their public meetings that he feels there is no statute that specifically allows the county to do so.
The lawsuit also alleges that other provisions of the order are ambiguous and that the order doesn’t explain other documents to which it refers.
The suit claims the order is “not in accordance with law and is ambiguously written in a most flagrant manner.”
Vincent said that the legal action, which was not drafted by a lawyer, was vague and ambiguous.
“We are not certain what they are asking,” he added.
The circuit court filing was styled as a “petition for preventative injunction,” but Williams’ order said that the plaintiffs apparently are seeking immediate injunctive relief.
The county commission was not served with process, however, and the three men didn’t cite any legal basis for immediate relief, Williams said.
Vincent said the county was served after the judge issued the order.
Commissioners have maintained that one condition of refinancing is that the county must save at least 2.5 percent in net present value for each of its three outstanding COP series.
Reichert has challenged the commission’s decision to refinance the COPs, citing as an issue the cost estimates from underwriter Edward D. Jones & Company.
He cited a document previously provided by county officials, claiming it shows refinancing would cost the county more than it would save. The document itself does not support his claim, however.
Thursday evening Reichert emailed out what he called the first Fight for Franklin Newsletter.
His email says Auditor Tammy Vemmer has said Reichert’s calculations are correct.
“We have to mobilize. We may have to picket, that will get their attention and perhaps the television media also,” Reichert concluded.
LeBeau, in an email Friday, said the current commission is determined to put the county further into debt “with the so-called refinancing of the COPs.”