Shown above, Carrie Best, center, testifies during a Tuesday hearing at the Union County Board of Elections. The validity of signature on referendum petitions was in question at the hearing. Also pictured are Andrew Diamond, seated, who organized the referendum against the Glacier Pointe development zoning, and Patrick Quinn, an attorney representing Best.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
The Union County Board of Elections has rejected a series of petitions that would have allowed Jerome Township residents to vote on a proposed housing development.
Following a hearing Tuesday, the board of elections unanimously voted to reject three of 14 petition parts that would have placed a referendum on the May 8 ballot. The decision means the matter will not appear on the ballot and the zoning is in effect.
“I am confident we came to the right decision. You are never going to make everybody happy, but I think we got it right,” board member Dean Cook said after the hearing.
In December, the Jerome Township Trustees rezoned 248.6 acres on McKitrick Road, north of Mitchell-DeWitt Road, to make way for the proposed 439-lot Villages at Glacier Pointe development.
On Jan. 18, resident Barry Adler filed petitions asking for a vote of the residents to reverse the zoning change, returning the land to low density rural residential and effectively stopping the housing development.
Adler submitted 14 separate petitions containing 163 signatures. The Union County Board of Elections accepted 146 of the signatures. Election officials said that for the referendum to be placed on the ballot, it would need 135 valid signatures.
In February, resident Trent Pryor, president of the Woods at Labrador Home Owners Association, filed a protest to the referendum. Pryor, through attorney Don McTigue, argued the petitions were insufficient because the wording was incomplete and many of the signatures should be thrown out because one of the petitioners had allowed some signers to sign for their spouse or to sign outside their presence.
The Ohio Revised Code states that, if a circulator knowingly “permits a person to write a name other than the person’s own on a petition paper, that petition paper is invalid.”
As part of the hearing, several affidavits were presented as evidence.
“I signed my name on line #9. She (the petition circulator) then asked if my husband was home. I answered, ‘no.’ I asked if it was OK to sign for him. She replied, ‘yes.’ I then signed my husband’s name, Henry Wehrum, on line #10,” Anne Marie Wehrum wrote in her affidavit.
During testimony Tuesday, Wehrum confirmed her affidavit account.
“You are saying the signature of Henry Wehrum was signed by you?” McTigue asked.
“Correct,” Wehrum said
“And he was not home at the time?” McTigue confirmed.
“Correct,” Wehrum responded again.
The woman’s testimony was similar to the day’s first witness, William Oldham.
“She (Alice Oldham) told me to sign for her,” Oldham wrote in his affidavit. “I signed my wife’s name on line 7 in front of the circulator.”
During testimony, Oldham said his wife was in the bathtub at the time the circulator came to the door. He said he did not remember if he signed his wife’s name in front of the circulator or if he took the petition and signed it on his way from the bathroom to the door. Either way, Oldham said, the petitioner did not go to the bathroom with him.
“So you signed your wife’s name?” asked Cook.
“Correct,” Oldham said.
As both sides questioned the man about details, he became visibly frustrated.
“It’s not something I would have thought I would need to remember,” Oldham said.
Kristina Moodespaugh testified she had signed the petition, but the petition circulator was not there. She also testified after she signed an affidavit explaining her signature, the man who collected and notarized her statement offered her a gift card to a local restaurant. Moodespaugh said she had relatedly expressed frustration to the man for being interrupted by both sides. She said that was why the man offered her a gift card, but she refused.
Carrie Best, the woman who circulated all of the petitions in question, also took the stand.
“I have a really bad memory,” Best said, explaining a series of health concerns that contributed to her inability to remember any of the issues brought up in the protest. She denied telling anyone they could sign for a spouse or even take the petition to another person. She said she believed she saw every signer specifically sign the petition.
During closing arguments, attorney Patrick Quinn, representing Best, conceded several signatures should be thrown out. He argued because of her memory and her health, Best did not know who signed the petitions, didn’t knowingly allow improper signatures and was not intentionally falsifying a document when she signed that she witnessed every signature.
Andrew Diamond, who organized the referendum attempt, also addressed the board.
“The law is intended to have a bias toward allowing the people to have a voice,” he said.
Like Quinn, Diamond said some signatures could be excluded, but the entire page should not be.
“Did she knowingly allow this to happen? We don’t have any evidence of that,” Diamond said.
After deliberations, the board members individually addressed their concerns.
Board member Teri Lemaster said she understands how something like this can happen.
“The thing is, we are asking human beings to take part in out process,” she said.
Board member Robert Parrott agreed the process can be difficult, but “it can’t be so daunting it can’t be done.”
He said the issues with the petition were not significant, but the signatures were “a problem.”
“There is a pattern here,” Parrott said.
Board member Bill Steele said signature collection is “critical.”
“It is challenging to make sure the signatures are done properly,” Steele said.
The board unanimously voted to discard the entire petitions that include the Oldham, Wehrum and Moodespaugh signatures. The decision eliminated 44 signatures, meaning the petition did not have enough signatures to be included on the ballot.
After the hearing, Diamond said he is “not sure” what his next step will be.
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