Stark County: becoming a laughing stock from the vantage point of some circles within the state of Ohio government?
That is what was suggested to one Stark County elected official in discussions with state officials once it came to light that there was an error in the ballot language on Issue 6 - a proposed tax levy to expand the Uniontown Police District (from its present 9 square miles) to cover all of Lake Township.
This assessment by a certain Ohio official (commenting on the Lake Township situation) follows on the heels of a state perception of the debacled way Stark County officials handled matters growing out of the theft of Stark County taxpayer money by former Stark County Deputy Treasurer Vince Frustaci.
Ohio's auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and, of course, the Supreme Court are intimately familiar with the Stark trials and travails growing out the Frustaci matter.
Between the then treasurer Gary Zeigler (who was not implicated in the theft), the Board of County Commissioners (Bosley, Ferguson and Meeks) and the county auditor (Perez) and the prosecutor's office (Ferrero) and the parade of in, out, in and out again interplay between Zeigler and successor county treasurers, the political brouhaha over the theft in terms who should have been minding the store better devolved into a first class "finger pointing" contest with state officials drinking it all in. Hence the notion of Stark being a laughing stock at the state level.
Now it appears that Lake Township (a Stark County political subdivision) is heading to the Supreme Court in an appeal by Lake Township trustees and the Stark County Board of Elections (Stark BOE) of Stark County Common Pleas Judge John Haas' ruling yesterday that the ballot language flaw on Issue 6 was fatal in compelling his finding as a matter of law that the passage on November 8, 2011 of Lake Police Levy (expansion township wide) was invalid.
And this may be a good thing.
A good thing? For whom?
Answer: the citizens of Lake Township in terms of them getting answers as to whom is specifically responsible for the ballot goof up of November 8th.
That question that went unanswered in Judge Haas' decision.
Plaintiffs' (the winning side of the Lake citizenry who opposed the expansion) attorneys attempted to depose Lake Township and Board of Elections officials, but Judge Haas was having none of it and quashed deposition subpoenas on those officials.
An unreported aspect of the case was a proffer of evidence (a document from the Ohio secretary of state office (SOS) showing that a SOS official spotted the error and communicated it to the Stark BOE on or about July 27, 2011.
Whether one is a Uniontown Police District (UPD) voter (disclaimer: yours truly, a UPD resident voted for the expansion which had the benefit of reducing UPD residents tax rate) or a Lake unincorporated area voter, it seems to the SCPR that either type voter would want to know whom among their public officials bears the blame for the errant ballot language getting to the ballot.
Political retribution is likely in order for Trustees Erb, Stoll (2013) and Arnold (2015) at the hand of both sides of the expansion issue if it is shown that the trustees knew of the errant language but opted to proceed with the election nevertheless.
For the anti-expansionists, it could be that the trustees would have had to cancel the issue for the November 2011 election and therefore the anti's would have time to solidify their forces in order to get over the electoral hump. This will especially be the case if the antis ultimately lose on an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
For the expansionists, as matters stand now (losing before Judge Haas), they have to be furious that they would have won fair and square in the election had their public officials not been so sloppy in formulating the ballot language.
For both sides there has to be a realization that the blunders of public officials have caused a heightened political division in the Lake community already divided by Uniontown, Hartville and Greentown (with their competing fire departments) and a historical division of the southwestern parts of the township and Greentown being in the North Canton school district.
Moreover, there has to be more than a passing curiosity as to how much this costing Lake residents and UPD residents in terms of legal advice/litigation expense (Township attorney Charles Hall, III) and the costs on the UPD part of the tax duplicate whereby trustees are allowing the UPD to patrol and serve townshipwide notwithstanding the unsettled nature of the election dispute.
One thing we know from the proffered SOS memo is that the Stark County Board of Election officials knew on or about July 27, 2011 about the faulty language.
Undoubtedly, they did not keep this information to themselves.
Who at the Lake Township government level knew of the problem, when did they know it, and who issued the directive to proceed with the election and, if the directive was made or sanctioned by a trustee or trustees, why wasn't the decision made in the context of a public meeting with a resolution voted upon by each and every trustee?
Ultimately, the courts will decide the substance of the issue one way or another. At a higher level with the proffered SOS evidence being in place in the court record for the Supreme Court to consider in the context of an appeal, if made; we may see a remand back to the Stark Court of Common Pleas for testimony by Stark BOE and Lake Township officials.
However, whether or not the Ohio Supreme Court (assuming an appeal) orders a revisitation of Stark County BOE and Lake Township officials in a testimonial context; Lake Township residents on both sides of the issue should demand from the Lake trustees that they provide chapter and verse on their role in the Issue 6 debacle!
A highly negative public perception of the quality Stark County governance developed out of the Frustaci revelation on April 1, 2009.
Despite the best effort of the likes of new county commissioners Bernbei and Creighton and new Stark County Treasurer Zumbar and Auditor Alan Harold to regain public confidence, they now have the added Lake problem which encompassed not only Lake officials but also the county prosecutor's office and the Stark County Board of elections.
Is there any wonder that Stark County governance is taking on a goofball tone with the folks some 125 miles away from Stark County?