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Johnson County Board receives draft ‘bill of rights’

March 25, 2014 7:00 am  •  By Nick Mariano

VIENNA – Johnson County commissioners were given a draft ordinance Monday to establish a community “bill of rights.”

The presentation of the proposed ordinance comes less than a week after voters rejected a countywide non-binding referendum seeking a local ban on fracking.

Kris Pirmann of rural Vienna, one of several residents who worked to place the referendum on the ballot and to draft the proposed ordinance, said the community bill focuses on fracking, or high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

He asked commissioners to take the four-page draft into consideration. The ordinance, if passed as-is, would seek local governance over fracking despite a state law allowing fracking.

Pirmann said he brought the proposal to commissioners for a number of reasons, including a media blackout by the Vienna Times and the Goreville Gazette that ban proponents said made it difficult to campaign.

Nearly 60 percent of those who turned out voted against the referendum, and turnout in the county was the highest in the region with nearly 50 percent of registered voters going to the polls, according to County Clerk Robin Harper-Whitehead.

Pirmann said he believes the interest deserves a continued discussion, beginning with the draft ordinance.

“I do hope they read it with both an open mind and criticism,” Pirmann said of commissioners. “The problem still exists that there are citizens of Johnson County who are under threat from this practice of fracking.”

Commissioners did not discuss the ordinance proposal during their board meeting but thanked Pirmann for the presentation.

The referendum did not mention a community bill of rights. Opponents of the referendum, however, say the “bill of rights” is just a different means to the same end, a ban. They also say it could be used on topics or issues besides fracking.

A vocal opponent to the referendum was one of the three commissioners, Ernie Henshaw. Another commissioner, Phil Stewart, has acknowledged he has leased property to oil and gas companies.

Board Chairman Jeff Mears said he plans to take a careful look at the proposal but questioned the county’s ability to pass a law that would butt heads with existing state statutes.

Although he said he voted against the referendum, he shares concerns over fracking. He voted against the measure because it was unclear to him what the outcome would have been, ranging from a conflict with state law to exactly whether a ban would be limited to fracking.

“I’m not going to side with anything where I haven’t seen any proof or know what the outcome would be,” he said Monday.


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