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Jefferson County Zoning Ordinance Referendum, 2009

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A Jefferson County Zoning Ordinance Referendum was on the November 7 ballot in Jefferson County for county voters. The referendum called for voters to decide whether to approve a new zoning ordinance.[1]

Although some county commissioners were hesitant to holding a special election for the ordinance issue, residents argued, "This is a very important decision the five of you would be undertaking that would affect the whole county."[2] The zoning ordinance went into effect November 2, 2008 after 4 years of discussion and debate. However, worried citizens took the measure to referendum after the West Virginia Legislature passed HB 4511. The new law allowed for qualified registered voters to trigger a referendum on zoning within 90 days of passing of the new zoning ordinance.[3]

If residents had voted 'yes' on the referendum, they would have approved the implementation of the new zoning adopted by the city commission. A 'no' vote means that the voter will keep the old nontraditional zoning as set forth before the new one was adopted. Residents addressed issues about confusing ballot language even though nothing can be done now. County officers have tried to make sure voters understand the issue, but many voters say it is still a complex referendum to decide upon.[4]

Election result

Jefferson County Zoning Ordinance Referendum
Result Votes Percentage
Defeatedd No 3,249 62.46%
Yes 1,953 37.54%
Total votes 5202 100.00%
Voter turnout NA%


Court case

Jefferson County is facing court cases regarding rejected FOIA requests. According to The Observer, they are involved in "a civil suit against Jefferson County in an attempt to obtain the names of the petitioners who signed the referendum petition." After signatures were filed, a FOIA request was filed to obtain the names of the petitioners, however the requests were rejected by Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan's office.[6] Local judges later sided with Jefferson County in favor of keeping the names private.

According to Maghan the FOIA requests were rejected after checking with the West Virginia Secretary of State's office regarding the privacy of petitioners' names. "I feel that it's important to follow through and maintain continuity between the state and county offices so that the process is the same for all," said Maghan.[7]

FOIA requests

FOIA requests by The Observer revealed questionable financial dealings between between Lee Snyder, owner of Jefferson Utilities, and Ronda Lehman, who led a petition drive on the latest zoning ordinance. Additionally, other documents revealed, according to The Observer a questionable relationship between the county clerk and zoning referendum petition organizers Ed Burns and Lehman. Specifically in email correspondence, the newspaper cites evidence of a tone that reveals a "familiar and friendly, demonstrating an affinity, perhaps even an alliance."[8]

Court of Appeals

In the week of January 11, 2010 the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals agreed to hear the FOIA case after a 5 to 0 vote. According to officials a ruling is expected within the next six months.[7]

County Commission

The Jefferson County Commission has opted not to send out an official endorsement of this referendum. County commission members are not sure how they feel about the referendum and feel that sending out an endorsement in favor would not be truthful to their office. Some commissioners did not yet know which way they would vote in the November election. While others thought that their early voting in favor of the referendum would show residents that they did indeed support the referendum.[9]

See also