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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Sandusky County officials battle to retain their jobs

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FREMONT Sandusky County government could be turned inside out Tuesday. Four elected officials are fighting to stay in office.

County voters will choose three common pleas judges, two commissioners, and a county treasurer.

County Treasurer Irma Celestino, a Republican, is fighting to keep her job against opponent Don Nalley, Jr., a Democrat.

In 2007, State Auditor Mary Taylor s office discovered Ms. Celestino and her staff failed to reconcile the county s bank statements for an entire year, as well as a $150,000 accounting error.

Finding $150,000 is better than losing $150,000, but if you re not reconciling [financial records], that could happen, Mr. Nalley said.

Ms. Celestino said she accepted responsibility for the mistake and pointed out that an audit the following year found no discrepancies.

I think the one thing people need to ask my opponent is what is he really going to do for the office other than balance the checkbook? OK. That s been done.

• OTHER RACES

Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Brad Culbert, 51, is running for his fourth term against attorney Brad Smith, who also is president of the Sandusky County commissioners. Mr. Smith said if he is elected, he will resign as county commissioner and quit his law practice to work full-time as judge.

Judge Culbert previously has disagreed with the county commissioners over budget allocations to the juvenile and probate court. If re-elected, he said, he will continue his work on the court s juvenile and family drug court, which is designed to provide close judicial supervision and status hearings to help offenders get their lives back on track.

We provide rewards and we provide sanctions to assist in modifying the behavior of the person we re serving in the program, he said.

Mr. Smith, 39, said the commissioners disagreement with Judge Culbert is not the sole reason he is running. If elected, he said, he will work together with elected officials to more efficiently operate and administer the court.

Your staff that they say is spread pretty thin, if that staff is made more efficient with electronic systems, you can save money that way. There s enough resources to do what that court needs to do, he said.

In one common pleas judicial race, incumbent Judge Roger W. Hafford, a Democrat, faces off against Republican candidate Barbara J. Ansted and David Dorobek, an independent.

Judge Hafford, 61, said he plans to implement a guardian ad litem program by training volunteers to evaluate child custody cases instead of leaving that task to paid, court-appointed attorneys.

I ve dedicated my whole life to serving the judicial system, Judge Hafford said. I want the job because I can best serve the needs of the citizens of Sandusky County.

Mrs. Ansted, 59, has served since 1999 as an acting county court judge in Woodville.

If elected, she would consider implementing a restorative justice program in Sandusky County, which allows crime victims to confront their attackers in a mediation format.

It s to try to cut down on recidivism and it s a way to provide a safer community, she said.

Mr. Dorobek, 49, the Common Pleas Court magistrate, said he has presided over almost 2,000 cases during the years in his position. If elected, he will focus on upgrading the court s equipment and explore the feasibility of electronic filing and electronic notices.

You have to explore the possibility of grant funding and with new judges coming in, there s an opportunity to review the budget and try to fine-tune it to eliminate waste, he said.

In a second common pleas race, County Court Judge John Dewey, a Democrat, faces off against former Fremont Municipal Judge Norman Solze, a Republican, to fill the seat left vacant by Harry Sargeant.

If elected, Judge Dewey, 61, said he would work to improve the court s reputation for delaying the judicial process.

I would exercise an appreciation for promptness in making a decision, he said.

Mr. Solze, 64, said his three goals would be to hold convicted defendants accountable, have all judicial decisions made within 30 days after they are submitted, and operate the court within budgetary confines.

I think I can utilize the staff more effectively and make decisions more timely as well as keep track of cases to make sure they move along without unnecessary delay, he said.

County Commissioner Terry Thatcher, a Republican, is running for his fourth term against Democratic challenger Glenn Baker.

Mr. Thatcher, 65, wants to finish the county s work on a new annex building.

He said he also will focus on keeping the county s businesses from leaving town.

The goal now is to keep what you do have and not let them slip away or leave the county, he said. When that happens, it hurts everybody.

His opponent, Mr. Baker, 67, a former mayor of Lindsay, said he would focus on prioritizing county government.

He criticized the commissioners for reducing the sheriff s office budget by about $1 million last year.

[The late Sheriff David Gangwer] was very upset about that, Mr. Baker said.

Former Sandusky Township Trustee Michael Hetrick, a Democrat, and Riley Township Trustee Danny Polter, a Republican, are vying to replace retiring county Commissioner Dan Liskai.

Mr. Hetrick, 68, said he has lived in the county for 64 years and is running for commissioner to give back to the community.

One of his top priorities as commissioner would be solving the county s budgetary issues without raising taxes, he said, which he would do by prioritizing department spending.

Mr. Polter, 57, co-owner of Polter Berry Farm, said he is running for commissioner to represent not only city residents but those in the county as well.

I ve seen how important it is to have a county government that s responsive to all of its residents, he said.

• LOCAL ISSUES

The county health department is asking voters to approve a 0.5-mill operating levy to replace an outdated 0.5-mill levy.

Campaign spokesman Kris Perry said that although the millage is the same, the new levy would generate about $32,000 more annually.

The present 0.5-mill levy does not expire until Dec. 31, 2009, and collection of the proposed five-year levy would not begin until January, 2010.

The replacement levy would generate $574,349 annually, costing $15.31 per year to the owner of a $100,000 home, an increase of $1.44 per year from the previous levy.

Mr. Perry said that additional revenue would pay for increased operational costs, which include flu clinics, home health services, and environmental services in addition to emergency response training.

Other communities with issues on the ballot include:

• Townsend Township: 2-mill road improvement levy, generating $55,817 per year, beginning January, 2009. It will cost an additional $61.25 per year to the owner of a $100,000 home.

• Scott Township: 3-mill replacement levy for department contracts with local villages. The present 1.5-mill levy, which expires Dec. 31, was originally passed in 2003. The new levy would generate $70,534, costing $91.87 per year to the owner of a $100,000 home, an increase of $13.04 per year.

• York-C: Local option, Sunday liquor sales, Woodshed Steakhouse.

• Bellevue 1-B: Local option, Sunday liquor sales, The Sports Hut.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:calcorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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