Republican John Navarre on Monday went on an unpaid leave of absence from his county job as a commercial appraiser to run for auditor — the post now held by his boss, Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez.
His decision to give up eight months of income and benefits to pursue elective office ends a politically touchy situation in which Ms. Lopez had to decide whether to fire an employee who wanted to run against her.
Mr. Navarre, 54, of South Toledo, filed in February unaware that as a classified county employee state law barred him from participating in partisan politics. If he gets the GOP’s nod, he would face Ms. Lopez in the Nov. 4 general election.
Mr. Navarre said he met with Ms. Lopez’s chief of staff early Monday and agreed to the unpaid leave Ms. Lopez offered him after a monthlong probe of the situation. He said it was “fair.”
“I really didn’t research it all that well. It’s probably my mistake,” he said of his lack of knowledge about the Ohio law that restricts the political activity of classified state employees. “But in the end, I do have the nomination, or probably will after May , and I do intend to run for auditor.”
He has been on paid leave from his $44,721-a-year position since Feb. 10.
Ms. Lopez said during an interview with Mr. Navarre, he invoked his right not to answer questions on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. Mr. Navarre confirmed that he and his union representative agreed he would not answer certain questions.
Ms. Lopez said she had no choice but to launch disciplinary action against Mr. Navarre because she could be sued in a citizen lawsuit for not enforcing the prohibition.
“Lucas County has never dealt with this situation, ever,” Ms. Lopez said. She said the choice to let Mr. Navarre take an unpaid leave was based on a 1985 opinion from then-Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.
Ms. Lopez was likely to face a candidate because James Martin, an unsuccessful 2013 Republican candidate for city council, filed as a write-in candidate to preserve the GOP’s ability to field a candidate in November if Mr. Navarre chose to withdraw.
Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook welcomed Mr. Navarre’s decision to stay in the race. He said his status as an appraiser and possession of a name that is well-known in Lucas County make him a credible candidate to take on the two-term incumbent.
“You have to let the voters of Lucas County decide. Here’s a perfect candidate who’s qualified and knows the office inside out because he works there as an employee,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “Who better to speak on the situation of what has gone wrong at the auditor’s office and how it can be fixed?”
Mr. Stainbrook said Mr. Navarre’s misstep should not be held against him unduly because he is not a lawyer. He said it was comparable to Ms. Lopez’s situation last month when her certification to the ballot was called into doubt because the two Democratic members of the county Board of Elections, Ron Rothenbuhler and John Irish, signed her candidate petition.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s Office has advised that board members abstain from certifying petitions they signed. The situation was resolved Feb. 18 when the petitions containing Mr. Irish’s and Mr. Rothenbuhler’s signatures were set aside, which still left the candidate enough signatures to be certified.
“She’s a lawyer. She should have known better,” Mr. Stainbrook said of Ms. Lopez. He said both candidates start now with a “clean slate.”
Ms. Lopez disagreed with Mr. Stainbrook’s comparison, saying she did nothing wrong, and that there was no law against Mr. Irish and Mr. Rothenbuhler signing and voting on her petition, just an “advisement” from a former secretary of state about the appearance of a conflict of interest.
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