“History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill famously said.
It will be interesting to see what history remembers about the long, expensive and arduous battle involving Putnam County’s Road 5.
If you’ve somehow missed this six-year battle over a few feet along a north-south road in Putnam County, here’s the short of it. The county commissioners thought Road 5 should expand to accommodate traffic and increase safety.
Those commissioners didn’t live up to the letter of the law in notifying people about it. They offered less money for some properties than the owners were willing to accept and used eminent domain to take those properties anyway.
The issues weaved through courtrooms, deciding the commissioners messed up and needed to pay appropriately for properties. It was impractical to put Road 5 back the way it was.
They made offers to the remaining landowners, and eventually all but three accepted a deal. Two of those last three had their day in court this week, only to have a jury of Putnam County residents say they didn’t deserve quite as much as the previous best offer on the table. One property was awarded $10,000, while another received $6,755. For fear of another loss, the third property owner reached a settlement Thursday.
“Victory for us,” Putnam County Commissioner Vincent Schroeder said after one of the verdicts was read.
Who, exactly, wins in this scenario?
Perhaps the only victor was visiting judge Dale Crawford, who implored the larger group of people in the lawsuit to do what’s best for everyone and settle their differences. Most of them took advantage of that Crawford-begged intervention last week.
Taxpayers still had to foot the bill for the county’s attorneys in a situation that wouldn’t have been necessary had the elected leaders followed Ohio Sunshine Law requirements in the first place. The commissioners spent more than $1.2 million on settlements, attorney fees, manpower for connected jobs and fines on the open meetings regulations.
The landowners didn’t get the value they thought their land was worth. Perhaps they demanded too much. Perhaps they stood up on principal the commissioners shouldn’t have been so fast and loose with eminent domain. Taking people’s property from them is a serious albeit contentious business. It must be done right.
The commissioners themselves are essentially unaffected by it. One of the three commissioners in office at the time — one who said he opposed eminent domain — was voted out of office. Another retires at the end of this year, leaving only Schroeder from when these decisions were made.
What will future generations of commissioners learn from this? Will they avoid eminent domain altogether? Will they see they can still get what they want as long as they’re willing to pay a premium? Will history one day prove the widened corridor between Leipsic and Pandora was really worth all the trouble?
Yes, history is written by the victors. One day we’ll learn who that victor was in this case.
For now, though, we fear everyone lost something of value in this debacle, especially the taxpayers sitting on the sideline forced to foot the bill.