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Freedom trustee race heats up

By Mike SeverRecord-Courier staff writer Published: October 20, 1997 12:00 AM

Lawson has circulated a flyier which charges Stefanish lost his

temper during public meetings, and tried to get an elderly woman who was

sick with cancer to change her testimony in a zoning dispute, among

other things.

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Stefanish said he has sought legal advice.

"I have talked to several attorneys. I haven't decided what to do," he said. Stefanish said he plans to file a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.

"The whole thing is ludicrous. It's taken so far out of context to be ridiculous," Stefanish said. He attributed the flap to Lawson's personal dislike of him. Stefanish supported William McDowell Jr.'s election bid over Lawson two years ago.

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Lawson served one term as a township trustee.. He also made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1992. Lawson is retired after 30 years with the Ford Motor Co. and now operates a tree farm and does some landscaping.

Other candidates for the two trustee seats include incumbent J.J. Leet and Kenneth Tackett, of 9461 S.R. 88, who operates Tackett's Tack and Feed on S.R. 88 north of the Ohio Turnpike.

Lawson's accusations cover a period of several years while he and Stefanish were both trustees. In one, Lawson says Stefanish voted against Lawson's motion that the township buy American-made products whenever possible.

Stefanish disputes that. "His motion was to buy American, period. It's impossible," he said.

Lawson also claims Stefanish threw "a tantrum" and threatened to tear down outdoor toilets near the township hall, used by people using the ballfields.

Stefanish said he did not recall the incident, but agreed he and Lawson did not see eye to eye.

"Did I lose my temper? Yes. Did I throw a tantrum? No," he said.

Another incident includes Tackett, who is running for trustee for the first time.

"I wanted to change one of my buildings to a commercial building, and there was only one person who opposed that and it was Mr. Stefanish," Tackett said.

According to Tackett, the county prosecutor told him the issue would be solved if he got sworn statements from people that he'd been in business prior to township zoning in 1981.

Tackett said Stefanish tried to appeal the zoning permit from the zoning officer under executive privilege, but the county prosecutor's office said Stefanish did not have that power. Tackett said he hired an investigator to take Marion Hale's affidavit after Stefanish had questioned her about her statement. Mrs. Hale moved to Texas to live with her daughter and died several months later, Lawson said.

Stefanish would not comment for the record about the incident.

Tackett said he had heard about but had not yet seen the flier. He said Lawson and Stefanish did not agree on any issues when they were trustees together.

"They're going to get down and roll in the mud and I'm not going to get down there with them," said Tackett.

A major source of conflict was the fate of the Freedom School. Lawson wants to preserve and renovate the school.

"It's still salvageable, and would probably cost a million dollars to replace what is there. And it would be a crying shame to let it be torn down," Lawson said.

Lawson said the flier was partly personal, partly politically motivated.

"Any time you run against someone it gets personal. But it's political. I don't think (Stefanish) should be in public office."

The fliers have been circulating for the past week, Lawson said. "I've had some good reaction, but then I've had some hate mail" as a result, he said.

For his part, Stefanish said he has contacted the county board of elections and the county prosecutor's office.

Chad Murdock, assistant county prosecutor for townships, said he had reviewed the flier and didn't see any action coming from the prosecutor's office.

"This is a private matter as I see it. This isn't an affront to the board or the township. But (Stefanish) may have some private issues," he could pursue against Lawson, Murdock said.

Stefanish said he would not respond to Lawson's flier.

"If I send out anything it will be about the positive things we've done in the township. I'm not going to answer his comments at all. It's totally ludicrous and absurd."

Stefanish said "100 percent of the calls I've received have supported me

and not him."

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