Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Charter Measure Approaches Election Day.

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

An anonymous comment appeared in response to an article on Ashtabula Times titled, “"Local group proposes charter form of Ashtabula Cou..." Saturday, May 25, 2013. The article was a repost, with appropriate link and attribution, of an article appearing in the Star Beacon the day before, May 24, 2013.

It is unusual for older articles to receive new comments, and this was the first this repost received on Ashtabula Times.
As a matter of policy we treat anonymous comments differently than those which identify  the commenting individual. If these 'comments' appear to have an agenda we often decline to publish them. This one, commenting on an article made months ago, arrested my interest because of the lapse in time and impending election.
The as yet unpublished comment read, “Dave Glotzbecker wrote to the Star Beacon and denied he was a member of this committee or went to any of their meetings. Might want to check with the Editor of the Star Beacon as they ran the item in June or July. “
David Glotzbecker's name appears on the petition circulated by the New Ashtabula Charter Committee.
It took little research to ascertain what happened, Dr. Malinowski said, for publication, David and he are old friends. They, along with their wives, had been going out to dinner together for many years. The subject of problems with county government, about which Malinowski and Glotzbecker, were both concerned, was a common subject for conversation.
Then the idea of a change in county government was raised Doc Malinowski asked his friend, David, if he would like to be on a committee to study, and suggest a change to a charter form of government for the county. David enthusiastically agreed to serve.

The two discussed the matter on many occasions over many dinners and on the phone.
Over the next weeks others were invited onto the committee, the wording was finalized, and the petitions printed. All members of the original group were named on the petition. Circulation of petitions began.
Abruptly, David asked his name be removed from the petitions. Doc Malinowski pointed out this was impossible. The petitions were being circulated and signed by voters. From 20 people circulating the number of people in the county committed enough to the measure had swelled to 85, all volunteers.
For a petition to be valid only three, not five, proponents are required, by law. Pulling the petitions would waste time, be costly, and deny to those who had already signed the voice the petition process offers. Doc Malinowski told his old friend this was unacceptable.
David, Doc said, had been enthusiastic in his support until after the petitions were printed. Doc believes Dave was beginning to be pressured but promised to make it clear to the Board of Elections David wanted to be taken off the list of committee members as soon as the signature drive was complete.
Later, Doc learned David was being pressured by his wife and people within the county who had seen his name on the petition.
Dave told Doc his wife had threatened to divorce him because she, “did not want him involved in politics.” Although he would not use names for this article Doc admitted he knows who Dave was talking about. These are politicians, he said, very active at the county level.
Disrupting a life-long friendship, the two had no more contact until Doc heard Dave had been hospitalized and in bad shape. During their visit, Doc told him about the progress which had been made, moving the petition onto the ballot for November. Dave said he was glad.

Circulating the petitions allowed circulators to discover party affiliation, making it possible for the Charter Committee to confirm their belief support for the change was coming very equally from both Republicans and Democrats. Independents were also strong in participation.
At the same time, it is clear a small number of people, associated with County government, are strongly opposed to the change.
In late June the completed petitions were handed over to the Board of Elections in Jefferson.
Although the Charter Committee had turned in 3,500 signatures 8% were invalid. These signatures were declared to be illegible or from people not registered to vote. Immediately, it was announced the petition had failed and would not appear on the ballot in November. In answer to objections, a special meeting was announced for Friday, July 5th.

Over 25 people crowded themselves into the small meeting room at the Board of Elections in Jefferson in support of the Charter. After a tense discussion, and by unanimous vote of the Board of Elections, time was granted for the collection of 275 more signatures.

In ten days, using 20 volunteer circulators, the drive ended. The Board of Elections received over 650 signatures, almost all good. The final count came to 300 over what was needed. Granting extra time is routine, and guaranteed by law.
Further objections by County Prosecutor Thomas Santini on the point a line of print had not been BOLDED on the petition. The matter was formally laid before John Husted, Ohio Secretary of State by two members of the Board of Elections, Carol Lovas and Duane Feher. On August 2nd Husted responded with this letter making it clear this was not a matter of great portent.
The Charter Committee moved right along, beginning to meet with town governments to explain how the new form of government will work.
Sitting down with small groups the Charter Team went over the proposal in detail from throughout the county from the time enough signatures had been collected on.

A rumor was floated the Charter was intended to replace town government, an outright lie. The need to refute this and other untruths shocked Charter activists, none of whom are seeking careers in government.
The County seemed to make every imaginable objection to the petition, also using county funds to appeal to the Attorney General of the State of Ohio to quash the measure.
Then, in early September County Prosecutor Thomas Sartini found a provision which seemed to him to indicate it was unnecessary for the Commissioners to mail copies of the Charter Measure to voters. Soon, the language was explained to him.

Sartini admitted his error saying, “I was incorrect in my interpretation of the law and I believe the commissioners are obligated to provide a copy of the charter to the electorate,” Sartini said. “I advised them of this as soon as I realized my mistake and I believe they are going to do so in compliance with the law.”
At this time, Commissioners decided they needed a new website, more professional and slicker, at a cost of  over $50,000. The passed a Resolution on this. They needed it immediately, ignoring how unnecessary this would be if the Charter Measure was adopted by the voters in November.
Meetings included requests to speak to both the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Executive Committee of the Democratic Party refused to allow them to speak and in early October the Democratic Committee, chaired by Duane Feher, having refused to allow the Charter Committee to address them, voted to oppose the Charter Measure. This is the letter generated by the vote of the Democratic Party.
According to the cross section of those signing the petitions, most members of the Democratic Party of Ashtabula support the Charter.
The first large meeting for debate on the Charter was sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The Charter Team was told by Barb Schaab three spokesmen would be present from the opposition, Tom Robertson, George Distel, and Roger Corlett. The three appeared dressed in power suits.
Only Doc Malinowski was to speak for the Charter. Two more spokesmen were added, Bernie Baranowski and Isaac Arthur.
Perhaps the most memorable comment of the evening was from Bernie Baranowski, who said about what Ashtabula produces, “our biggest export is our children.”
Young people, who do not return from college because of the lack of opportunities in Ashtabula County, have been a recognized problem for many years.
At the back of the room sat County Sheriff William "Billy" Johnson. He was not wearing a power suit.

The Commissioners canceled meetings for the week of October 21st, according to this email from Lisa L. Hawkins, Clerk of the Board.
A certified letter was sent to Doc Malinowski, demanding the Charter Committee participate in a forum to take place October 9th at A Tech in Jefferson.

Doc Malinowski responded with a letter, dated October 10th, pointing out the Charter Committee had begun committing to a schedule for debate in, “in July or August before the dates get booked up.” He also mentioned they had already spoken to over 100 groups.
Malinowski then said, “Our group is comprised mainly of ordinary citizens from all walks of life who feel that our current government has let the people of our county down and feel the charter will get our great county moving again and give them a greater voice in the operations of government and their futures. They do not have time for this type of political gamesmanship.”
The League of Women Voters, when it was pointed out to them could not host an event if both sides were not participating, pulled out.
In the days remaining until Election Day on November several questions will be answered.
One of these is how much money the Commissioners will spend on advertising. Producing such a television ad was the most likely motive for their demand for a forum which they, effectively, controlled. This may also account for the rescheduling of meetings for the week of October 21st.
The second question is the source for the money they are spending in their campaign against the Charter.
With time, all questions are answered.

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