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County coroner protests county reform effort

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    Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans speaks at a heroin summit in Wellington Feb. 7.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE FILE

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SHEFFIELD TWP. — The lone Republican elected official in Lorain County government has filed a formal protest opposing a plan to reform county government.

County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans’ protest, filed Wednesday with the county Board of Elections, echoes previous arguments raised by Democrats that the petition failed to contain an appendix describing the boundaries of the seven districts that would elect members of a proposed county council to replace the three-member board of county commissioners.

Evans also argued that without the appendix, the districts can’t be approved as part of the measure if it appears on the November ballot. That, he wrote, means the county charter would need to be amended in 2018 to allow for districts to be formed.

Without those districts, Evans argued, there would be no members of the county council to appoint people to various roles, including the position of medical examiner, which would replace the elected office of county coroner, until 2020 when the next election would be scheduled.

The elected positions of coroner, treasurer, clerk of courts, engineer and recorder would all be abolished Jan. 1, 2019, under the charter proposal and would remain vacant until a council was elected to appoint them, Evans wrote.

Evans said Wednesday that he filed the protest to protect his office and the ability of voters to choose who fills the role of the coroner.

“The voters should have the right to vote for their coroner,” he said.

The elections board split along party lines on the issue of the missing description of the districts, with Democrats arguing that without it the reform petitions were invalid under state law. Republicans sided with reform proponents, contending that the board should try to allow issues on the ballot whenever possible.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sided with his fellow Republicans when he broke the tie, writing in a decision earlier this week that because supporters of the proposal said they had shown those signing the petitions a map and other information, the missing appendix wasn’t a serious enough problem to keep the reform effort off the ballot.

The reform effort isn’t actually on the ballot yet. Proponents of the plan needed to obtain the valid signatures of 7,782 registered voters in order to get the plan on the ballot, but came up 1,160 signatures short earlier this year. They have until later this month to gather additional signatures to meet that requirement.

Lorain County Republican Party Chairwoman Helen Hurst, who serves on the elections board, said Evans was within his rights to file the protest even if she doesn’t agree with his argument.

She also said the fact that a sitting Republican official challenged the reform plan shows that it’s not a Republican effort to seize control of county government, as Democrats have alleged. A Democratic review of the proposed districts indicated that it would favor Republicans, although backers of the plan have argued it’s a bipartisan effort.

“It’s not a Republican effort alone,” Hurst said.

Evans also isn’t the first to file a protest again the reform effort. Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips has also filed two protests challenging the validity of the petitions and has said he would take the matter to court if he fails to convince Husted to remove the reform plan from the ballot.

Calls to supporters of the reform plan were not returned Wednesday.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.



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