The Board met to accept the ordinance from the City of Portsmouth to hold a special election of Dec. 7 to consider Murray’s recall. It was the second such meeting. In the first attempt, the petitions were thrown out after a protest by Murray’s attorney Corey Columbo. Since then, Tom Bihl has again taken the petitions around and come back to set a date for recall.
During the meeting, Sixth Ward Portsmouth City Councilman Richard Noel continually accused four members of City Council with conspiring to oust Murray.
“It’s pretty bad when you’ve got people plotting against somebody just to get rid of them,” Noel said. “I’ve seen it in the meetings. This was a made up deal to get this over with before she has a chance to do anything.”
Board member Randy Basham then attempted to clarify the circumstances.
“Mr. Noel I believe we clearly understand your concerns and the objective that the guests who are here today on behalf of Mayor Murray (have),” Basham said. “Mayor Murray has stated clearly that she wants sufficient time, what I’m understanding as a Board member, in order to have her protest heard. But what was dealt us and handed us is City Charter law and language on dates. We can’t escape that. So we’re following the process today by voting like we did the last time. There’s a shorter period of time at this one versus the last one, but then if the law says you’re in that compressed time zone then we’re going to have to deal with it.”
Murray presented the Board with a list of what she said is discrepancies — nine in all. One of the items is — “The following part-petitions are invalid in that a conflict of interest exists from the fact that the City Clerk, responsible for certification, is the mother of and resides at the same address as the circulator: 29, 30 and 64.” The reference was to Mark Aeh, Jo Ann Aeh’s son.
As the meeting went on Murray addressed the Board and asked for an evidentiary hearing to consider her protests, and asked for additional time to review signatures on voter registration forms on file at the BOE.
Board members continually reminded those present that the Board cannot change the date since it is in an ordinance from the city of Portsmouth.
“The board’s function here today is to go ahead and authorize the election, and we will take this (protests) up in a different forum,” Chad Sayre of the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office, the Board’s legal representative, said.
“There is nothing that indicates that a date certain has to be held for a recall election,” Murray said. “We’re talking about due process. We’re talking about the timeliness and issues with respect to having access because of the general election. So my request is simply one that would extend to a point where it makes reasonable sense for the (BOE) staff and for me to have time to review records prior to such a hearing.”
Again, the Board clarified that the date is set by City Council and not the Board.
Murray continued to bring up all the work the staff at the Board of Elections has to do such as recanvassing, but Scioto County Board of Elections Director Teresa Knittel said that is not an issue.
“When the (City) Clerk came in it was just a few weeks ago and we were in the middle of the election and we have the extra computer, so at any time that can be done,” Knittel said. “As far as the election, the ordinance states the date. We don’t set that date.”
Despite that repeated explanation, Murray continued to ask the Board to change the date.
“As Mayor of the city of Portsmouth I have an incredible amount of duties, unlike the Clerk (Jo Ann Aeh), I couldn’t come, and cannot come here during all working hours of the day to check the signatures that are in doubt as well,” Murray said. “I’m happy to spend some time at it but I do have duties as Mayor, and therefore having sufficient time is also a matter of due process that I believe I’m owed. There is nothing magical about the date, Dec. 7, I think that perhaps the Clerk was just wanting it to be as soon as she could possibly get it, but there is nothing that stipulates that the date cannot be revised.”
In the end it was determined that a protest hearing would be scheduled, probably within a week or so.
Another one of the major problems that came up was whether the Board had to follow a law that states absentee ballots must be available 35 days before the election, and that day would fall on this Tuesday, the day of the general election. Knittel got her answer in a phone conversation with the Secretary of State’s office.
“On a special election, when they can call an election like that it doesn’t give us time, so we are not required to start absentee balloting until the ballots come in,” Knittel said. “We are to do a database at an appropriate time, and as soon as the ballots get in that will be when absentee starts.”
After the meeting Bihl was asked if he will have legal representation at the meeting.
“Yes I will,” Bihl said. Bihl identified his legal representative as Ironton attorney Mark McKown.
In the hallway outside County Commissioners chambers Murray said she believes she has sufficient data and objections to signatures, entire part-petitions, that she believes will take the number of legal signatures below the required number of 1.148. Last week Aeh certified 1,171 signatures.
“I don’t have time to go in every day,” Murray said. “I’ve been working on city business. Yesterday I was working on budget and there are just myriads of problems and issues that I’m working on daily. So I can’t come down here and check these myself until I have a little more time. I’m hoping they will agree and have the hearing around Nov. 9 or 10.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.