Portage County Tea Party objects to license fee hikes

By Mike Sever | Staff Writer Published:

The Portage County Tea Party head is asking why it took two weeks to get information on the license fee hikes recently passed by county commissioners.

In a Wednesday email to the Portage County Board of Elections and Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, Tom Zawistowski said he has been seeking information since June 3 on how to conduct two referendum petition drives against the hikes.

Because the hikes fall under separate Ohio Revised Code sections, opponents need to get signatures on two referendum petitions within 30 days of commissioners passing the two $5 license fee hikes.

On Friday, Vigluicci said it took time to research the issue.

"Believe me, it is not a black-and-white and well-settled issue with an answer in a book somewhere," Vigluicci said. He said Zawistowski was advised to seek an attorney to answer some of his questions, that the prosecutor's office could not serve as private legal counsel.

"We don't want to send somebody off in the wrong direction so they end up with an invalid petition," Vigluicci said.

Vigluicci said he agrees 30 days "is an inordinately short period of time to accomplish this task." State law sets 90 days for most other referendum efforts.

Brad Cromes, deputy director of the elections board, said the problem was the two license fee increases fall under different ORC sections.

"The issue you run into, each of the sections of the code has slightly different rules and we really cannot give legal advice on that. We can advise on the number of signatures, we can advise on the process of what happens when they've gotten those signatures," but the board can't give detailed advice, Cromes said.

By Thursday, Zawistowski got some of his questions answered. Denise Smith, Portage County chief assistant prosecutor, said petitioners will need 4,323 signatures under O.R.C. 4504.16 and 2,834 under O.R.C. 4504.02. Smith also gave contact info for the Portage County Bar Association for a referral to an attorney.

Zawistowski said he was "not sure if we can pull this together" in time to meet the June 30 deadline to file petitions.

Under the first ORC section, voters in Kent and the villages of Hiram, Mantua and Windham are excluded because they are not affected by that fee hike.

Under the second section, voters in Ravenna, Kent, Aurora, Streetsboro and the villages of Hiram, Mantua, Mogadore and Windham are excluded.

That leaves Zawistowski to get signatures in the villages of Brady Lake, Garrettsville and Sugar Bush Knolls and 18 rural townships.

But that's only the best assessment by the prosecutor's office, Cromes said. "I'm not sure if the excluded communities issue is final," he said.

Cromes said he contacted the secretary of state's office early on.

"The secretary of state was very clear that this was a question for private legal counsel," Cromes said. He said that, "beyond saying here's the piece of law that covers this, there's a reluctance there ... and that's because it's an open question" as to who is eligible to sign petitions, and could end up in court.

Cromes said elections board's "best practice (to get valid signers) is to stay in areas we know are eligible" for the fee hike.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1125 or msever@recordpub.com

Facebook: Mike Sever, Record-Courier

Twitter: @MikeSever_RC

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