By Frank Lewis
The days in office for Portsmouth Fourth Ward Councilman Jeff Kleha are winding down, and when he reflects on how he left office, he has mixed emotions.
Kleha lost in the primary election when the Scioto County Board of Elections allowed voters in the Sixth Ward to vote for two candidates instead of one.
The result was that Tom Lowe and Shawn Stratton were the top two vote getters, and Kleha was the odd man out. Lowe was eventually elected in November.
Kleha says he has no hard feelings, but it is obvious to him that by allowing the two votes instead of one, they went against the city’s lifelong practice of one vote per voter. Kleha said the BOE submitted 315 ballots and counted 345 votes.
“The Board of Elections had no business looking over this (City) Charter, then start interpreting the law and saying, ‘we need to put this language in here.” Kleha said. “It was an obvious mistake and I’m embarrassed for them that they embraced the mistake and said they didn’t do anything wrong instead of saying, ‘we screwed up, I’m so sorry.’”
Kleha was double-surprised when the wording on the ballot was supported by Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn.
“He’s their lawyer,” Kleha said. “You’ve got to do what you can for your client, but I would have advised them, this is illegal.”
All of that being said, Kleha says he has enjoyed his stint on city council, a position he was selected to fill when Sixth Ward Councilman Steve Sturgill had to move out of the city jurisdiction because the state of Ohio took his property for the new bypass project.
“I enjoyed it,” Kleha said. “I liked it. It was very much like the DD board (on which he serves), except the difference is that you have constituents and you advocate for them. That’s not much different from what a lawyer gets.”
Kleha will continue his work as an attorney as he heads into the new year.
“I’ll just keep practicing law and stay on the DD board and make sure they do the right thing,” Kleha said.
Kleha reflected on recent developments in which the Scioto Count Commissioners recently attempted to place standing New Boston Village Councilman Mike Payton on the DD board.
“That was blatantly and patently illegal,” Kleha said. “The law says no elected official can serve on the DD board. It wasn’t even ambiguous. In my case it was ambiguous. In my case it says – ‘no elected official,’” Kleha was not elected, he was appointed.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.