Our Geist Conservancy District Steering Committee would like to thank all of our supporters and legal team for attending this morning’s petition hearing. The purpose of the hearing was for the court to determine if our petition met the statutory requirements and, if so determined by the judge, refer it on to the Natural Resources Commission (“NRC”) to establish the District Plan.
Approximately 126 stakeholders and attorneys joined Hamilton County Superior Court 5 Judge Najjar via a Zoom conference call which lasted nearly two hours. Our legal team from Dentons Bingham Greenebaum LLP, led by Briana Clark and Matt Troyer, presented 1,444 signed petitions in favor of the Geist Conservancy District which equates to 37% of the 3,902 freeholders. Statutorily, only 15% of the signatures are required.
Clark presented evidence substantiating the 1,444 freehold signatures in support of the petition and accounted for the 8 people that previously signed and then requested to have their signatures removed. Clark also asked to introduce another set of 61 new signatures from freeholders in support of the establishment of the conservancy district, which if admitted will put the total number of freeholders over the 1,500 mark.
Jeff Heinzmann, an attorney representing Matt Russ & John Domokos as well as two other individuals opposed to saving Geist through a conservancy district, made multiple unsupported arguments during the hearing. Heinzmann argued that there were approximately 51 invalid signatures submitted by Dentons. However, when pressed for evidence of the invalidity, Heinzmann acknowledged he had none, and requested additional time to submit such evidence. Ms. Clark objected stating that the petition has been on file for over a year and the Court agreed with Clark, denying Heinzmann’s motion.
Heinzmann then went on to attempt to further muddy the waters arguing that the steering committee needed 30% of the freeholders to have signed, not merely 15%. Ms. Clark corrected his misreading of the statute and pointed out that regardless the committee had significantly exceeded the 30% threshold as well.
Undeterred by those setbacks, Heinzmann argued that people were misled during the signature drive and called two witnesses in support of his argument. The first witness, an Admirals Pointe resident, was impeached promptly by Ms. Clark under cross-examination because although he was initially a signatory, he failed to also disclose that he had requested his signature be removed and the steering committee had honored that request. His was one of the 8 signatures that had been withdrawn prior to the hearing. Heinzmann’s second witnesses failed to show up for the hearing. Heinzmann did not call either Russ nor Domokos to the stand.
Overall, the hearing went as expected with no surprises. Marina Limited Partnership and Citizens Energy Group were each represented by counsel but sat on the sidelines, having resolved their differences with the steering committee months ago. Attorneys now have 30 days to submit proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law, after which Judge Najjar will make his final ruling and the petition will move to the NRC. It’s expected that hearings before the NRC will occur sometime in the spring of 2021, the final step necessary in order to create the Geist Conservancy District.
We know it has been a long journey but we are optimistic we are moving to the final chapter and well along the way to creating a sustainable method for saving Geist for generations to come.
A special thank you to our thousands of supporters, the entire Geist Conservancy District Steering Committee and Dentons for a job well done. Enjoy time with your families over the holidays, even if it is virtual, and we will continue working on the engineering study and budget to present to the NRC next year.