POMEROY — The proposed bond issue for the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Facility will not appear on the May ballot after a decision by the Meigs County Board of Elections on Tuesday morning.
The Board of Elections discussed the proposed bond issue with Meigs County Prosecutor James K. Stanley, Meigs County Commissioner Tim Ihle and Meigs County Sheriff’s Office Major Scott Trussell during their regular meeting on Tuesday after the matter was referred back to the board by the Secretary of State’s Office last week.
The commissioners had filed paperwork for the bond issue on behalf of the sheriff’s office prior to the Feb. 1 filing deadline, but there was an issue with the filing which caused the Secretary of State’s Office to approve it “to form only.”
By being approved to form only, means that the ballot language and submitted information does not match the statutory wording and therefore the board should seek clarification from the submitting party on the matter and meet with legal counsel.
Tuesday provided the opportunity to meet with both legal counsel and the submitting party, with Stanley, Ihle and Trussell in attendance for the meeting.
Prosecutor Stanley explained to the board that it was his understanding the issue was with the header on the form which said “tax levy” rather than “bond issue” although he said the matter was really both a bond issue and tax levy.
Chairman of the Board of Elections Charles Williams stated at the beginning of the discussion that the board “is not in the business of blocking an issue” and that they are there to “make sure it is presented as it should be.”
Williams went on to say that the matter was “pretty much new to us” and that the board was not wanting to make it difficult.
Deputy Director Angie Robson said that she had spoken with the Secretary of State’s office numerous time in the past week to make sure things are being done right.
Robson stated that the language was correct, but submitted as a bond issue on a tax levy resolution.
Board member Rita Slavin stated that the problem with placing the matter on the ballot as submitted is that the board is responsible for seeing that the wording is correct.
It is foolish to say put the issue on and say it was not done correctly and then have a protest filed, stated Slavin.
Williams echoed that statement, saying that if it was approved and there was a protest then the bond issue could be declared null and void, a problem that they did not want to create.
Ihle stated that the commissioners are learning as they go with regard to the bond issue as it has not been done before by the current commissioners and that they too have been seeking advise from the Secretary of State’s office.
The bond issue was submitted on the form that has always been utilized by the county for tax levies, said Ihle. The first time it was filed, a day before the filing deadline, it was “not even close” said Ihle of the bond issue. The commissioners refiled the paperwork on Feb. 1, the day of the deadline.
In seeking advice from the Secretary of State’s office, there was little assistance as to forms to complete or the language which should be used.
Stanley stated that if the top of the form stated “bond issue” rather than “tax levy” it would likely have not been an issue.
It is a bond issue and tax levy, stated Stanley, noting that it is not misleading to say that it is tax levy, with all of the information included in the resolution stating that it is also a bond issue.
“It is a levy that would issue bonds,” said Ihle.
Stanley noted that it was expected by the Secretary of State’s office, through his conversations with them, that the issue would be on the ballot, although they could not give an official opinion.
The format and language used by the county for the proposed bond issue was the same as the language and format successfully used by Paulding County previously.
Slavin asked if it was possible to restart the process and refile again, to which Ihle said it was possible but it was significantly wrong then it could be done, but he did not feel that it was significantly wrong.
Ihle said that the county has the need for the facility and will continue to pursue the measure whether in May or November, but that the measure being left off the ballot in May would delay getting the process started.
Slavin reiterated her concern that if there was an objection to the language being filed on the wrong for then the county would have to pay the expenses.
Ihle stated that there was precedent for the format being accepted, but that it was not challenged.
Slavin stated they wanted to make sure there was no room for a challenge.
Asked by the board for his official opinion, Stanley stated that all of the pertinent information was included and that everything from the ballot language was included in the resolution approved by the commissioners.
“It’s not prefect, but I wouldn’t say it’s fatal,” said Stanley of the situation.
Williams asked Ihle if there would be a problem getting it passed, noting that it was a big levy for a small county.
Ihle noted that the sheriff and others would be working to educate the voters, including hosting town hall meetings.
After lengthy discussion, board member David Fox made a motion to accept the issue as submitted on the recommendation of the prosecutor, therefore placing the issue on the ballot. Fox stated that given the form and the resolution it was clear that it was worded the way the commissioners and sheriff’s office wanted to go about it.
After the motion, Williams asked Stanley if he felt the the issue was secure or could with stand a protest.
Stanley responded that he could not say there would not be a challenge or how a judge would rule, but that if it would be challenged he would argue that all of the language was contained in the resolution and that it was valid.
“There is certainly a great chance of being successful,” said Stanley.
Board member Jimmy Stewart stated that he would hate to have the uncertainty going forward.
Williams stated that they did not want to create a “black mark” on the ballot issue going forward if it were to be challenged.
Stanley stated that the concerns of the board were misguided and that the only issue they should be concerned with was if the language met the requirements. While he stated he understood their concern of a challenge, the matter could be challenged regardless of if this specific concern existed or not.
Williams asked if he was able to second the motion as chairman, something he was not able to do.
Fox stated that the people should be given a choice in the matter.
Slavin stated that she could not second the motion, citing her earlier concern over the incorrect form.
Fox’s motion died for a lack of a second after much discussion.
Williams noted that there are provisions in place for a special election in August if the county decided to go that route.
Ihle said that the commissioners and sheriff’s office will regroup and decide how to move forward with the bond issue. For more on the reaction by Sheriff Keith Wood and Ihle see a related story in today’s edition.
Reach Sarah Hawley at 740-992-2155 ext. 2555 or on Twitter @SarahHawleyNews