The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 27, 2013

Ashtabula County charter group submits required signatures

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — A group trying to put a county charter government initiative on the November ballot has submitted the required number of petition names to do so, a spokesman said.

Robert Malinowski, of the Committee for a New Ashtabula, said Friday he understood volunteers had gathered around 663 additional names to replace those ruled invalid by the Ashtabula County Board of Elections earlier this month. The collection process is over, he said.

“Twenty-five petitions were turned in,” Malinowski said. “We have more than enough signatures.”

The new signatures are being double-checked by the Ashtabula County Board of Elections. If enough are valid, the Ashtabula County commissioners will be notified by the election board. A motion from the commissioners is needed to put the initiative on the November ballot.

One protest was filed at the Board of Elections by George Distel, former state representative and county commissioner, D-Conneaut. He protested that current county Board of Elections members Charlie Frye and Myra Brown, both Republicans, signed the petitions. Distel said it’s a conflict of interest.

The protest will be forwarded to the Secretary of State’s Office in Columbus, Malinowski said.

“Normally we would never send it to Secretary of State’s office,” Carol Lovas, county election board director, said. “We will wait for the Secretary of State to rule. He has the say whether there’s a valid protest or not.”

Earlier this month, the committee learned some 267 names among more than 3,100 collected during a three-week period in June were invalid. Some names were removed because they were printed, not written, on petitions, while others were dropped because of address problems, officials said. The group, however, had additional time to collect replacement signatures.

The Ashtabula County prosecutor’s office recently issued an opinion that the committee could gather names up to 70 days before the Nov. 5 general election, Lovas said. That put the committee’s deadline around Aug. 27, she said.

“I thank all of the people who signed the petition, especially the people who circulated the petition,” Malinowski said. “This is surely a grassroots effort.”

The charter government proposed by the committee would replace the elected, three-member board of commissioners with an elected, seven-member council. Under the plan, the new council would hire an administrator to handle the county’s day-to-day operations.