Letter of the lawWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Feb. 26 signature fraud investigation report from Cuyahoga County special prosecutor James Gutierrez is not a textbook example of an open-and-shut case. Gutierrez is firm in his conclusion that Lucas County Republican Party leaders Jon Stainbrook and Kelly Bensman did not commit fraud when one officer signed another’s name to a campaign finance report form, but his logic and reasoning fall short of his responsibility to uphold the letter of the law.
Remember, the petitions for the Take Back Toledo recall effort were tossed out because of a minor difference in phrasing on a falsification warning. The red light camera ballot issue was denied because each petition circulator did not notarize their signature on each individual part-petition. Neither group was given an opportunity to re-file amended petitions. So, clearly, the powers that be are merciless in their interpretations of the law, and make no exceptions, right?
Wrong. According to Gutierrez, a Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE) employee, Olga Vellajo, witnessed the signature fraud act, and accepted that document anyway; later, the group was allowed to file an amended report. Vellajo brought the fifth-degree felony to the attention of Jeremy Demegall, BOE deputy director, who told Gutierrez he does not remember the details of the incident and was unaware “proxies are not allowed,” although it is a fifth-degree felony under state law.
Gutierrez reported there is an admission of forgery, but because those accused of committing the forgery told him they did not intend to defraud the BOE, there was no intent to defraud the BOE.
Remember that the next time you are caught for speeding or running a red light: “Gee, officer, I didn’t intend to run that light. I can go now, right?”
As odd and off-key as Gutierrez’s report is, it also reveals some of the culture at the BOE. The inaction in the face of clear rule breaking, the indecision, the lack of understanding the law and the impression that BOE employees are intimidated by Stainbrook do not paint a complimentary picture. If it is true that under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Howe, a culture exists that enforces the rules to the max on some occasions but not when employees are scared of certain individuals, that impression does not flatter her or her organization.
The BOE is charged with keeping politics clean and within the boundaries of the law. When that body becomes embroiled in politics instead of rising above them, its leadership and the entire system is compromised.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Tags: Lucas County GOP