COLUMBUS - The Ohio Democratic Party executive committee opted against suspending Trumbull County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Polivka, and instead, appointed someone to examine possible ODP and Democratic National Committee rules violations committed by the local party when it used secret ballots to fill a vacant county commissioner seat.
The move Wednesday is a change from what ODP Chairman Chris Redfern said last week would happen - Polivka would be removed, the party's first vice chair elevated, and the party given time to correct its bylaws.
"We started the process. The process is an examiner interviews, goes out, collects facts and reports back to the executive committee,'' Redfern said Wednesday night.
The man appointed examiner, Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, has 60 days to investigate any infractions and report back to the executive committee. ODP bylaws call for this process to happen when there is a potential violation or complaint made.
The motion appointing Burke, read by Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Betras, also states the executive committee "wishes to formally begin the censure" of Polivka and the Trumbull County Democratic Party.
Sanctions already imposed on the local party - suspension of a bulk mail discount and access to sample ballots and electronic voter database - will remain during the investigation, but would be lifted if Trumbull County Democrats change their bylaws to prohibit secret ballots in the meantime.
Polvika's attorney, Jeff Goodman, called Thursday's development a "tremendous victory" for Polivka and the local Democratic Party.
"Our point all along was that we want the Ohio Democratic Party and Chris Redfern, in particular, to follow his own constitution, follow the constitutional procedures that are in place when disputes like this arise," Goodman said.
"He's been popping off in the media and (to) anyone who will listen about things that he is going to do and things that he thinks he's done. We've never been sanctioned. Dan Polivka didn't do anything wrong. The Trumbull County Democratic Party didn't do anything wrong.
"Our demands coming into this meeting ... were that you have a process in place, you have a constitution in place, stop ignoring it and let's make the process work. Tonight was our victory because that is what happened," Goodman said.
He and partner H. Gilson Blair sent a letter to Redferm on Aug. 24 stating as much.
Still, there are questions about whether Redfern can take away the local party's access to the voter database and franking privilege.
Polivka said ODP's constitution only lets that happen when a local party doesn't pay its assessment, which Trumbull County has paid for the last four years, he said.
Also, Goodman said the local party has not been given formal notice of the sanctions.
Redfern said ODP bylaws allow him flexibility "for me to do things that are necessary to keep order in the party."
"Strong personalities have strong differences of opinion," Redfern said. "I've been wrong before, but in this case, no, I'm right and the DNC's rules committee and the Ohio Democratic Party's rules are the rules that have to be reflected by the Trumbull County party."
Polivka is in the hot seat because of the secret ballot central committee members took on July 26 to fill a county commissioner seat that became vacant due to the death of Commissioner Paul Heltzel.
The process included the use of two secret, paper ballot votes and then public confirmation of the candidate by voice. Polivka said doing so kept the local party complaint with its own bylaws, which call for a secret ballot, and the constitutions of the ODP and DNC, which prohibit voting secretly.
Keeping the vote secret also fell within the wishes of central committee members, who almost to a person in a straw vote before selecting their candidate decided they wanted the vote kept secret.
Immediately after, Redfern sanctioned the local party because secret ballots were used.
Goodman said the examination will let the local party present "our side of the story."
"We're very confident in our legal position, we're confident that Trumbull County hasn't done anything wrong and at the end of it, we're still hoping there can be some party unity,'' Goodman said.
"At this point, that probably is going to take an apology from Chris Redfern to the precinct committee people in Trumbull County and the people of Trumbull County who have been insulted by this entire process and by his attitude."