Tucker OK to run for Meigs commissioner despite incumbent complaints

By Lorna Hart - lhart@civitasmedia.com

POMEROY — The Meigs Board of Elections did not invalidate Larry Tucker’s bid for candidacy for Meigs County Commissioner despite allegations by his opponent, current commissioner Randy Smith, that Tucker is not eligible.

According to minutes of the special meeting Jan. 21, provided by Meigs County Board of Elections Director Meghan Lee, “Per the opinion of the County Prosecutor, and the opinion from the Ohio Attorney General, the Board of Elections does not have the authority, based on the reasons set forth by Smith’s protest, to invalidate Tucker’s petition for County Commissioner, and therefore his name will appear on the March 15, 2016 Primary Election (ballot) as per the unanimous vote of the Meigs County Board of Elections.”

Smith presented the board with sections of the Ohio Revised Code that were mentioned in his letter questioning Tucker’s candidacy. He also presented a letter from the Middleport mayor stating Tucker was a classified employee for the village as the corrections officer.

Tucker defended himself by stating his supervisors were unaware if he was a classified or unclassified employee until 8 p.m. or after on Jan. 20.

Assistant Prosecutor Jeremy Fisher stated that it was irrelevant as it pertained to the board of elections duties, and was not part of the consideration in deciding the legitimacy of Tucker’s candidacy.

Smith brought the issue of whether or not Tucker was “unclassified” or “classified” in his employment with the Village of Middleport as jail corrections officer to the board. The significance of the classification is important, as Smith stated both Meigs County and the Village of Middleport have policies that forbid classified employees from certain political activity. In addition, he presented evidence that Section 124.57 of the Ohio Revised Code also prohibits such activities.

Smith stated no record was found in the Meigs County Auditor’s Office or the Meigs Court of Common Pleas declaring Tucker to be unclassified and cited Section 124.11 of the Ohio Revised Code.

The board consulted with the prosecutor’s office prior to the meeting as they are the legal counsel for the county and its townships.

According to BOE Chairman Charles Williams, the board made their decision based on the advice given by legal counsel from the prosecutor’s office during a special meeting held just for the purpose of deciding Tucker’s legitimacy.

“The board of election relies on the advice of our legal counsel when this type of issue occurs,” Williams said.

He added that, according to the BOE, Tucker was deemed a legal candidate and his name left on the ballot, per legal counsel, and assured voters that a ballot cast for Tucker will count.

Lee echoed his statement and said that according to her office, Tucker is a legal candidate and there could be no further action taken on their part. She also said Smith has no further recourse with their office.

According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Compatibility of Public Offices or Positions Index: “Specific public positions or offices that are either compatible or incompatible, and enumerates the various attorney general opinions that have made those determinations. It is strongly recommended that the opinions listed under particular positions or offices be consulted whenever one questions the propriety of serving simultaneously in those positions or offices. An opinion of the attorney general may find two positions compatible so long as certain important qualifiers or limiting conditions have been satisfied. Thus, the listed opinions themselves should be reviewed to ascertain the presence or absence of such qualifiers or restrictions.”

Per the index, a county commissioner is incompatible to also serve as a local board of education member.

Tucker is currently Meigs Local School District board president and stated in a recent interview published in The Daily Sentinel on March 2 that, if elected as commissioner, he plans to continue to serve on the school board. He also stated that according to information he received from Attorney General Mike DeWine, there is no conflict with serving on the school board and being a county commissioner.

Documents provided by Middleport Mayor Sandy Iannarelli regarding Tucker’s status as either classified or unclassified regarding his employment with the village indicate that on Jan. 20, the village regarded him as classified. A document dated Feb. 3, signed by Richard H. Hedges from the Village of Middleport Office of Solicitor, indicates Tucker is an unclassified employee.

The Feb. 3 document is represented as a legal opinion regarding the issues of “Can a village employee pursue public office?” and “Is a village employee a ‘classified employee?’” It concluded that village employees are unclassified and, therefore, may seek partisan elected office, if desired.

“A village employee is an unclassified employee pursuant to O.R.C.124.5 as villages are not specified in the language of the statute. In R.C. 124.11, the language infers that village employees are unclassified and “therefore not subject to the R.C. 124.57 prohibition.”

The document also states that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has weighed in on this issue and village employees are unclassified. The Ohio Supreme Court has decided that, under the Ohio Constitution, an unclassified employee has the right to seek partisan elected office.

A past Middleport Police Department Handbook, Section 417 in regard to political activity stated, “No member, on or off duty, shall take active in any part in any political movements or political campaigns, or act as an officer in any political club while on duty. If a member participates off duty in any political club, he shall in no way relate his activities to the department.”

The language of that passage was then changed and approved by Hedges on Nov. 4, 2015, and now reads, “No member on duty shall take an active part in any political movements or political campaigns or as an officer in any political club while on duty; if a member participates off duty in a political club, movement or campaign, he or she shall in no way relate their actives to the Middleport Police Department.”

Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551.

By Lorna Hart