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Election board keeps Waddell on Falls ballot

WARREN — The Trumbull County Board of Elections voted to keep Newton Falls 3rd Ward Councilman Lyle A. Waddell on the ballot despite three formal complaints questioning his eligibility.

The issue was whether Waddell was in violation of the village charter’s term-limits provision.

After nearly two terms as mayor, Waddell was appointed in October 2019 to the open 3rd Ward council seat. He then resigned as mayor.

The challengers contended because the charter states the mayor “shall be recognized as a member of council,” and “a councilman may be elected to an unlimited number of terms but may not serve any more than two consecutive terms at a time” that Waddell couldn’t run this year for council.

The board ruled 3-0 Tuesday that the charter isn’t clear on this question and sided with Waddell.

“You have different interpretations of the charter,” board member Diana Marchese said. “It needs to go back to the people and let them decide what they want. Also, state law gives deference to allow people on the ballot and let voters decide.”

Board President Mark Alberini recused himself from voting because his cousin, Tarry Alberini, is a Newton Falls councilman-at-large and was involved in the appointment of Waddell to council.

Mark Alberini said he didn’t see a conflict of interest, but decided to “err on the side of caution” and abstain from voting.

After the hearing, Waddell said, “It’s a shame you have to go through this. The charter is specific. The interpretation of the charter has gone by the wayside. If you want term limits, put that in. If not, put that in.”

During the hearing, Waddell said, “Politics in Newton Falls has been a debacle for a long time and that’s because of the charter changes.”

Waddell provided the board with a legal opinion from village Law Director A. Joseph Fritz that supported his position.

“There appears no condition in the present situation that confirms the mayor is a member of city council and therefore term limited,” it read. “The term ‘recognized’ does not mean the mayor has all the rights and duties as a member of city council.”

Fritz said, “I am of the opinion that the mayor of Newton Falls has no specified term limits and is not restricted by the language defining the city council in (the charter). Further, by not enforcing any term-limit restriction in this situation, the matter is brought before the electorate for ultimate decision.”

Three Newton Falls residents — Tesa Spletzer, one of Waddell’s opponents, former Mayor Patrick Layshock and Edward E. Carr, who served on the village’s charter review commission in 1993 — filed challenges to Waddell’s candidacy.

“The voters are clear that eight years at a time is enough and then take a break,” Spletzer said.

After the board’s vote, Spletzer was noncommittal about filing an appeal in court, but seemed to lean against it.

“I know I can beat him in the polls,” she said. The March 17 runoff is “only two months away and the (court) docket is full.”

Layshock was at the hearing for a brief period and urged the board to let a court interpret the village charter.

Waddell, Spletzer and Dougle Hankins filed for the 3rd Ward seat with the top two finishers in the May 17 runoff moving to the November general election.

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