SHEFFIELD TWP. — Backers of a plan to reform Lorain County government filed petitions Friday to put the measure on the November ballot.
County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said the proponents of the plan turned in 7,867 signatures with the petitions, which is 85 more than the 7,782 minimum number of signatures required to get the issue on the ballot.
Election officials now will begin a review of the signatures to determine how many came from registered voters in the county. If the backers fall short, they will have until mid-August to gather additional signatures to meet the requirements for ballot access.
Former county Commissioner Dave Moore, a Republican leader of the reform effort, had said earlier in the year that he wanted to get between 10,000 and 12,000 signatures to make sure there was a cushion in case signatures were rejected. He said Friday that he expects roughly 10 percent of the signatures that were turned in to be rejected and is confident he and his fellow organizers will be able to get enough signatures in the end.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” Moore said.
A separate drive to gather signatures to challenge a 0.25 percent sales tax increase imposed by the commissioners last year has complicated petition efforts, Moore said, because people sometimes are confused about which petition they’ve signed. Proponents of the anti-tax measure, which county officials have said likely isn’t legal, have yet to file petitions, although organizers have sued the commissioners challenging the legality of the sales tax hike.
Moore said the effort to gather additional signatures will begin over the weekend, with proponents of the plan fanning out to local Independence Day events and fireworks displays.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said his reading of the law is that supporters of the petition need to wait until the elections board completes its review before they can collect more signatures.
This is the third time the reform effort has launched a signature drive to get the plan on the ballot and the first time backers have managed to gather enough signatures to submit their petitions to the elections board.
Moore said if the effort falls short this time, it likely will be the last time they make the effort.
The controversial plan would replace the current three county commissioners with a seven-member council that would be elected from districts across the county.
Although Moore and his allies have billed the plan as bipartisan, Democrats have long complained that the districts appear tilted to help Republicans win control of county government. The current commissioners — Ted Kalo, Lori Kokoski and Matt Lundy — are all Democrats and don’t support the reform proposal.
The plan also would turn several jobs that are now elected by voters, such as county recorder and treasurer, into appointed positions. Other positions, such as county prosecutor, sheriff and auditor, would remain independently elected offices.
Additionally, the plan calls for the creation of a county executive, who would be appointed by the proposed county council.
Kokoski said she doesn’t like the cost of the plan or the elimination of elected offices.
“I think it’s a really bad charter for many reasons, but the top issue is gerrymandering,” she said.
Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips, who is among those leading the anti-tax effort, initially had signed the reform petition but sent the elections board an email Friday asking for his name to be taken off the petition.
He said he has further reviewed the plan since signing it and doesn’t like several provisions, including the fact that the county executive would be appointed rather than elected.
“I don’t think it accomplishes really what they’re trying to do,” Phillips said.
Adams said typically once a petition has been submitted to the elections board it can’t be changed, but he said he plans to seek legal advice about Phillips’ request because county elections officials have never dealt with a charter reform proposal.
Kalo, Kokoski and Lundy all said that ultimately what form of government the county has is up to voters.
“There’s a process in place and the process will run its course, and we’ll wait and see what the end result is,” Lundy said.
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