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Published: Sunday, 9/21/2003

A Kest recall would go to court

With California politics in the news, and in the wake of reports about the troubles facing Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest, it was probably only a matter of time before someone contacted the Lucas County Board of Elections to ask whether a county official can be recalled, and if so, how.

Elections Director Joe Kidd said that he advised the caller last week that officeholders here can be removed under a provision in Ohio law, but the process is quite difficult and quite different from what we have been watching on the Left Coast.

The Ohio Revised Code states that any public official may be forced to forfeit his post if he “willfully and flagrantly exercises authority or power not authorized by law, refuses or willfully neglects to enforce the law or to perform any official duty imposed upon him by law, or is guilty of gross neglect of duty, gross immorality, drunkenness, misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.”

Petitioners must circulate a complaint against the officeholder, and must collect a number of signatures from registered voters equal to 15 percent of the number of people who voted in the last race for governor in the jurisdiction in which the official resides.

Right now in Lucas County, that amounts to 19,423 valid signatures, Mr. Kidd said. Then, instead of holding a recall election, the matter veers into the local legal system.

The complaint and signatures are to be filed, in most cases, with the county Court of Common Pleas.

A hearing before a judge - or jury of 12 - is then held. If the judge, or nine of the 12 jurors, find the official is guilty of one or more of the charges, the official would be removed.

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It was late last month that the Lucas County Democratic Party executive committee met and decided to ask Mr. Kest, a longtime Democratic officeholder, to resign. The committee's action was the latest evidence there remains little love between current Democratic Party leaders and Mr. Kest, and that the wound opened wide by his 2001 Toledo mayoral run against - and eventual loss to - endorsed Democrat Jack Ford continues to fester.

If Mr. Kest, the target of a multi-faceted investigation by a special prosecutor, were to heed the committee's call to resign, his replacement would be named by the Democratic Party central committee.

Or maybe not. The matter is open to question, Mr. Kidd said, in part because Mr. Kest did not vote in the 2002 primary. Ohioans decide their party affiliation chiefly by voting either a Republican or Democratic ballot in even-year primary elections. State law provides that, should a county office become vacant, the central committee of the local political party with which the outgoing officeholder was last affiliated gets to name the replacement.

Mr. Kidd, a lawyer, said that because Mr. Kest missed his chance to express a party preference last year, it might be argued that he is no longer a Democrat.

Spurning the Democrats who have abandoned him, Mr. Kest could further muddy the waters about who would control a vacated treasurer's seat by filing a declaration of intent to change his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, Mr. Kidd said.

The only sure-fire way to determine which party would control the seat is if Mr. Kest is still in office and votes either as a Democrat or Republican in March's primary election.

If he again misses the primary election or votes a nonpartisan primary ballot, and then leaves office, his post might be filled by the county commissioners. Two of the three commissioners are Democrats.

All of this is entirely premature, of course. There is no indication Mr. Kest is considering resignation and there is not now a movement to force him out. But, as the call last week to Mr. Kidd indicates, there seems to be interest in the subject.

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One of the strangest developments in the recent Toledo primary election involved the alleged assault of a female employee of Diebold Elections Systems by a male poll worker at Lagrange Elementary School.

Diebold employees were in town helping to administer the election, which was the first in which the county was using the company's optical scan and touch-screen voting systems.

According to a Toledo police report, the victim “reported that the suspect twice pulled her hair back and attempted to bite her neck.”

Witnesses “heard the suspect state that he was going to `bite' the victim's neck,” the report states.

The victim declined to press charges. Reminded of the title character in Bram Stoker's vampire novel, Mr. Kidd referred to the now-dismissed booth official as “Pollworkula.”



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