Gov. James A. Rhodes tonight rescinded an energy emergency order to close down Dayton-area schools and businesses in a bizarre sequence of events that left everyone in confusion.
Returning to the statehouse from Washington, Rhodes told a news conference he had no authority to "mandate" such drastic action in his declaration of an emergency 24 hours earlier.
He blamed it all on "some misunderstanding" by his energy aides.
"There is still an emergency in the Dayton area; however, the state is not mandating the closing of schools or businesses . . . everything is voluntary."
He said he would meet with officials of four Ohio gas companies and state legislators Saturday to work out a "united front that all of us agree on."
The governor's about-face came as Ohioans reacted angrily to the unexpected order that would have closed schools for 30 days and limited business and industrial activities to 40 hours a week 24 southwestern counties served by Dayton Power and Light Co., (DP&-L), an electricity and natural gas supplier to about 1.3 million people.
DP&-L had notified state officials that sustained record-low temperatures - 21 below zero last week - had put excessive demands on its fuel supply, and Rhodes responded with the emergency order.
As late as Wednesday, however, the governor's energy advisers had said there was no need to declare an emergency. Hence, many people were upset by the suddenness of Rhodes' original action.
At the same time, school officials had complained they were being forced to carry the heaviest burden during the energy squeeze.
Dayton Superintendent of schools John Maxwell said the schools could continue to operate indefinitely with the almost half-million dollars worth of propane gas the district had bought as an alternative fuel supply.
Some 150,000 students in the 24-county area would have been affected by the shutdown.
School officials had wondered about the financial losses resulting from a 30-day shutdown. Dayton School Board President William Goodwin estimated the schools would have lost up to $6 million over a 30-day period because teacher salaries would have to be paid along with other fixed operational costs.
The governor's energy aides apparently were unprepared to answer many of the questions raised by Rhodes' original order.
Peter E. Susey, deputy director of the Ohio Energy Resource and Development Agency, had said: "The only reason we have not declared a statewide emergency is that we lack the supporting data on supplies and storage reserves from the gas companies. My intuition says when we get it, we will declare an emergency."
Even Rhodes acknowledged that he lacked much information to comment on the situation in detail.
And some of the confusion has been blamed on the manner in which Rhodes issued the first order. State newspapers were unable to reach him Thursday night at his Washington hotel. Reporters were told by an aide that the governor was asleep and could not come to the phone.
Confronted by a reporter in the hotel lobby this morning, Rhodes said he was't sure what he might do next and left the hotel. He flew to Columbus tonight and then rescinded his order.