The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

August 30, 2013

Ashtabula County Board of Elections says no to ’Bula’s request to identify police levy

JEFFERSON — Proponents of two big ballot issues saw their hopes of gaining a little traction with voters denied by the Ashtabula County Board of Elections on Thursday morning.

First, the board regretfully said no to the city of Ashtabula’s wish to add the word “police” to the title of its police levy, saying the request would set a precedent and came much too late. Moments later, members agreed to inform a group promoting a county charter government initiative that the board cannot include a copy of the document with every absentee ballot.

Ashtabula’s top leadership — including City Manager James Timonere, City Solicitor Michael Franklin, Council President J.P. Ducro IV and Police Chief Robert Stell — attended the board meeting to plead the city’s case. The city sought to identify the five-year, 2.5-mill additional tax issue as a police levy in its title. As written, the introduction will merely state it is a tax increase, Franklin said. Voters will have to read several paragraphs before learning it is geared to the police department, he said.

“For the average citizen, identification of purpose is helpful to voters,” Franklin said.

While board members saw merit in the idea, the request comes too late to take effect this fall, they agreed. Ballots for the November election have already been laid out and go the printer very soon, said Duane Feher, deputy director. Filing deadline for the fall election was Aug. 7.

“it’s like changing the horse in mid-stream,” Feher said.

Franklin said he sent a letter making the request three days after reading the levy’s proposed ballot language. Joseph Varckette, board chairman, stressed the panel was not inferring the city dragged its heels in making its levy title request.

Other factors worked against the request. The county patterns its levy titles in the style set by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, members said. The board also feared a title change at this late date would prompt a flood of similar requests that would overwhelm election board employees.

Still, the board saw merit in Ashtabula’s request and is willing to study a possible policy change.

“(Similar requests) have been made to the board in the past and with the same result,” Varckette said. “Let this be the instance we bring it to the forefront.”

The board also agreed to advise the Committee For a New Ashtabula that it will not enclose a copy of its proposed county charter with every absentee ballot. The board is not obliged by law to do so, and the cost of printing and mailing the document would be hefty and work a hardship on staff, officials said.

State law only mandates the charter be posted at polling places, Feher said. A copy of the charter will be mailed to voters who want it, the board agreed.

In other business, the board agreed to pull the name of Jacqueline Hillyer from the November ballot. Hillyer, a Buckeye Board of Education member, died earlier this month while vacationing in South Africa. The request to remove the name came from Hillyer’s husband, Feher said.

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