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Elections board moves Falls election

WARREN — After much discussion about when to hold an election for two Newton Falls Village Council seats, the Trumbull County Board of Elections decided to have it in 2021.

This came despite a legal opinion from Newton Falls Law Director A. Joseph Fritz that the election for the 1st and 3rd Wards seats be in 2020.

Before the vote, board Director Stephanie Penrose said: “I have a feeling we can be sued either way.”

Council members filled the vacancies in the two wards — Zachary Svette in the 1st Ward in May and Lyle A. Waddell, who stepped down as mayor earlier this month to take the 3rd Ward appointment.

The issue is the interpretation of the village charter as to when an election should be held for the seats.

Fritz wrote in a letter that the charter specifies: “The individual filling the vacancy shall be appointed only until a general election can be held for the office.”

Village, city and township elections are held on odd-numbered years in Ohio.

But Fritz wrote the charter doesn’t define “general election,” and it was his opinion the seats should be placed on the 2020 ballot.

Penrose said she was concerned about a municipal election in 2020 as it isn’t done that way and it could prove to be difficult to handle during next year’s presidential election, particularly because Newton Falls has an open primary. That means likely having to create separate ballots specifically for Newton Falls’ 1st and 3rd Wards.

Deputy Director Ron Massullo said an even-year municipal election would be “unprecedented. I didn’t talk to one election official who’s heard of” it. “We might see litigation on this.”

William J. Danso, an assistant county prosecutor, wrote in an opinion that Fritz “is likely the person most familiar with the operation of the Newton Falls charter (so) I believe the board could rely on his interpretation. Moreover, this interpretation promoted ballot access and the right to vote on replacement candidates at the earliest possible time.”

Danso also wrote that having the election in 2020 or 2021 is acceptable and “if the board feels strongly that this matter should not be placed on the ballot until 2021, we would defend that course of action as well.”

Mark Alberini, elections board president, said he feels “strongly about putting this in the hands of voters. But I interpret it for the next like election for these seats.”

The other board members agreed with Alberini and voted 4-0 to put the council seats on the 2021 ballot. The unexpired terms for Svette and Waddell end Dec. 31, 2021 so the election that year would be for full four-year terms. If the election was next year, the terms would be a little over a year.

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