The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 8, 2014

Local businessman filing a complaint against city

ASHTABULA — A local businessman is filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging government property was used to print material promoting city’s police levy.

John Ginnard, owner of the EComm Cafe, requests the review of the copies handed out at three, public informational meetings, held two weeks ago. State law doesn’t permit the use of government property to print copies.

“It’s unknown whether the copies were made at City Hall,” Ginnard said, noting he can’t get an answer from city officials. “Since a disclaimer is not there (on the copies), the assumption is the city prepared the copies on a city copier.”

City Manager Jim Timonere said Ginnard never asked about the copies — if he had, he would have discovered there was no wrongdoing.

“I personally paid for those copies at Office Max and I have the receipts,” he  said. “The Citizens for Safety Committee, which sponsored the meetings, invited me to speak on behalf of the city.”

Timonere presented a power-point program on the levy — an additional 2.5-mill tax for five years specifically to hire five more officers and two additional dispatchers in the Ashtabula Police Department.

“I created the power-point on my personal laptop outside of city time; it was displayed off of my personal IPad  and the screen was provided by St. Peter’s Church,” he said. “The only time I heard Ginnard requesting something from the city is on a Facebook post today after he called the Star Beacon.”

The Citizens for Safety Committee also asked Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell to speak at the meeting. He tackled the department’s overtime numbers, which Ginnard has criticized publicly.

City Solicitor Michael Franklin said he was asked to speak, as well.

“The committee asked us to explain our position and why we think (the levy) is important to pass,” he said. “I question whether a (hand-out) is campaign material. It’s an informative paper.”

Franklin said what really is an election offense is making false statements and he’s encouraging the Citizens Safety Committee to file a complaint against Ginnard.

Franklin said Ginnard  placed “campaign literature” on Facebook without attribution to any individual.

Ginnard said Facebook doesn’t have to have attribution because “there’s no cost to it.”

Duane Feher, director of Ashtabula County Board of Elections, said he directed Ginnard to the Ohio Elections Commission. Feher also said he will be sending local officials a note, reminding them to place a disclaimer on all political material.

Franklin said a disclaimer was on at least one of the hand-outs at the meetings.

“If there was a violation it was minuscule,” he said.

Ginnard said, “A violation is a violation. Interpretation of whether it’s minuscule is by Mike Franklin.”

A spokesman State of Ohio Auditor Office, also known as the state’s “watchdog” agency, said there’s no wrongdoing in having an informational levy meeting, unless a city employee was paid to attend or work at the meeting.

City officials said no one was paid to attend or work at the meetings.

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