While many people know the history of the township form of government, not as many know the history of the Ohio Township Association. Some may be surprised to learn that a number of county associations were formed prior to the creation of a state association.
Ashland County formed the first county association in 1922, with J.R. Thomas as its first president. Allen County followed in 1924 and its first president was Forest Schindler. In 1926, three other counties formed township associations: Mercer (George Schroyer, president), Hardin (Claude Peas, president), and Wood County (E.L. Kingsbury, president). Ashtabula County formed a county township association in 1927, with Harvey Streiber as president.
Forty-one counties formed township associations in 1928, 21 more counties formed township associations in 1929, and 19 counties did the same in 1930.
Why the flurry of activity in 1928? In 1926, a joint committee of the 86th Ohio General Assembly — which had been studying local government in Ohio — issued a report that recommended “the immediate abolition of the township and the transfer of its remaining functions to the county.” The committee recommended that a bill be introduced to abolish townships in Ohio.
A number of township leaders recognized that a united front was needed to respond to this threat. Chief among them was Col. E.L. Kingsbury of Perrysburg Township and president of the Wood County Township Association. Kingsbury was 83 years old at the time and a veteran of the Civil War, but that didn’t stop him from traveling around Ohio to urge trustees and clerks to form their own state association.
On March 24, 1928, Joe R. Thomas of Vermilion Township in Ashland County proposed a resolution to form such an association, which the Ashland County Township Association adopted. Soon a committee was formed to pursue the creation of a state association, led by Thomas. Thomas’ committee sent letters to all 6,000 township officials in Ohio, notifying them of a meeting to be held in Columbus on June 28, 1928, to consider forming the state association for trustees and clerks.
On that day, 240 officials from 51 counties met and created the State Association of Trustees and Clerks, which would be organized by a county association in each county. A constitution was adopted with one amendment, raising the annual dues from 50 cents to $1.
Thomas was elected as the first president of the state association, and Bert Shepherd of Union Township in Brown County was named vice president. There were to be three standing committees: Organization, Finance and Legislation. An annual meeting of the state association was to be held on the last Thursday of January each year, which is one reason why the OTA’s annual Winter Conference is held the last week in January.
Thanks to the efforts of these early leaders, no bill was ever introduced to abolish townships. In fact, every member of the joint committee eventually repudiated the report that called for such action. It was later revealed that none of the “experts” who worked on the study had ever served as a township official or had even lived in a township. Over the years, this history lesson became obvious: We must stay united and engaged to promote and preserve the township form of government in Ohio.