By RON SELAK JR.
WARREN - Trumbull County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Polivka said Wednesday despite feeling "bullied" by the Ohio Democratic Party, he is "staying the course" on his feelings that central committee members should be allowed to vote secretly when picking a successor for Commissioner Paul Heltzel.
"I've always tried to work with them, but this one here ... I don't know about it," said Polivka. "It's overstepping their bounds is how I feel."
But Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said there is "no equivocation, no debate" on whether the party will follow the rules of the Democratic National Committee and Ohio Democratic Party requiring county parties to vote publicly, not privately.
Redfern gave Polivka two options: "Enforce the rule or he can resign."
He added, though, "I hope he doesn't (resign), he's a valuable member of the team, but there is no debate."
Polivka said he is "checking some things out" with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's Office and with party parliamentarian Christopher Becker on the best way to proceed and to avoid "shooting from the hip" on this because he wants to make sure the person picked by central committee members is valid.
"I'm staying the course on how I feel," said Polivka. "I don't feel it should be dictated how we should hold our elections."
Eleven people have applied for the position, which became empty when Heltzel, 69, died June 30.
Democrats will pick someone July 26 to fill the seat until the November election and to be on the ballot. Republicans, too, will pick a ballot candidate to fill Heltzel's unexpired term, which ends in January 2017.
Secret ballots have been the longstanding practice by the county's Democratic Party to fill vacancies and make party endorsements, voted on by central committee members decades ago to move away from voter intimidation.
But it's a prohibited practice in the constitutions of the DNC and the ODP, which last month held the feet of the Mahoning County Democratic Party to fire to eliminate secret ballots by taking away the state party discount on campaign mail and access to an electronic voter information system. The perks were restored when party Chairman David Betras agreed to make this an other changes to that county party's bylaws.
Redfern said Bill DeMora, state party secretary and director of county party operations, spoke with Polivka about the matter, and an email stating the section of the party's bylaws dealing with secret ballots are "null and void" was sent by the state party to Polivka on Wednesday, Redfern said.
Also, there is an Ohio Attorney General's Office opinion from 2001, said Redfern, that states secret ballots are not allowed in an open meeting.
"Central committee members are elected on the ballot," said Redfern. "Those are public officials and their votes, according to the attorney general's position, have to be in accordance with Ohio Sunshine Law."
But Polivka argues central committee members are "for a party organization, not for a government body" who "vote on endorsements, vote on appointments, vote on party leadership, but they don't take a public, official vote."
Redfern said a public vote can be a voice vote or by raising hands, not necessary where a central committee member is required to individually vote for the candidate.