Impound lot petitions challenged
Warren councilmen cite deficiencies in letter to county elections board
WARREN — Two council members who voted for the city going out to bid to place an impound lot in the city have filed a complaint with the Trumbull County Board of Elections, citing numerous deficiencies in a petition drive headed by and paid for by fellow Councilman Ken MacPherson.
MacPherson, D-5th Ward, was one of four council members who voted against the plan to seek bids for a city-run impound lot. When the legislation passed, MacPherson immediately said he would challenge it through a referendum.
In a letter taken to the Trumbull County Board of Elections and also forwarded to Ohio Secretary of State’s Office on Friday, Councilmen John Brown, D-at Large, and Greg Greathouse, D-3rd Ward, stated many of the 64 petitions collected by MacPherson and his supporters should be scrutinized and eventually thrown out. They said some of the petitions contain unreadable names and addresses; names that were printed, instead of written in cursive, as they are recorded on Board of Election records; persons not being registered to vote; signees not living in the city; as well as some falsified or forged signatures.
In addition, the councilmen claim at least two of the circulators who gathered signatures have felony convictions and are on probation, which should have made them ineligible to be circulators. They also note other circulators have had criminal records.
MacPherson needs to have 1,106 valid signatures on the petitions to have the referendum against the impound lot bid placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. When MacPherson turned over the 64 petitions to Warren City Auditor Vince Flask in May, there were a total of 1,709 signatures on them. It is up to the board of elections to determine how many of the signatures are valid.
The board of elections has until July 20 to complete its review of the petitions.
“We told Vince Flask that we should be completed long before the deadline,” Trumbull County Board of Elections Deputy Director Ronald Massullo said. “We have our employees going through the petitions.”
As far as the complaint turned in by Brown and Greathouse, Massullo said the board will turn it over to a Trumbull County assistant prosecutor for a legal review, so a recommendation can be made to them about what to do with with the allegations.
When the impound lot legislation was passed, it was Councilwomen Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward; Helen Rucker, D-at Large; and Ronald White, D-7th Ward, who voted with MacPherson against it.
Both Brown and Greathouse emphasized they are not against voters being able to voice their opinions if the referendum makes it to the ballot, but they want the process to be done correctly.
“The way this has been done makes it seem that those who voted for the impound lot are doing something against residents of the 3rd Ward and the city,” Brown said.
Greathouse said he and Brown viewed the petitions while they were being held at Flask’s office for the required 10 days. It was at that time they noticed numerous problems with the petitions.
Greathouse, for example, said numerous signatures on the petitions appeared to have been written by the same person or persons.
MacPherson said he welcomes the scrutiny of the petitions.
“It is what it is,” MacPherson said. “Either they are right on the law or the lawyers that I hired, Corey Colombo and Donald J. McTique, are correct.”
MacPherson said the attorneys helped him write the petition and advised him how to go about circulating them. He paid more than $1,000 to the law firm for their work.
“I tried to do everything by the book,” MacPherson said.
He said this is not the time for the city to become involved in a city-owned impound lot.
MacPherson said he provided petitions to approximately 50 people who said they would circulate them.
“Some did not return them to me,” he said.
MacPherson said the petitions he personally circulated, to the best of his knowledge, were all done correctly.
“The ones I circulated I absolutely witnessed every signature,” he said. “I can’t speak to what others did.”
Brown said at least five people that he personally has spoken to said they did not sign petitions. These people have signed affidavits, stating they did not sign the petitions.
“My husband George and I did not sign the petition,” Sheila Calko said. “We are not involved in this. I am concerned that someone forged my signature. That’s not acceptable.”
Calko said whoever did it apparently did not know her address because it was crossed out and written over.
“This is very bizarre,” Calko said. “I would know my own address.”
Audrey K. Foreback, who lives next to the Calkos on Laird Avenue, also noted she was not approached by anyone about the petition drive against the impound lot, nor did she sign any petition against it.
“When I saw a copy of the petition sheet, it appeared whoever signed my name was the same person who did my neighbor’s name,” Foreback said. “The handwriting appeared to be the same.”
Foreback expressed concern about the 44 other signatures on the petition sheet she was shown.
“Someone should go back to each person to make sure they actually signed the petition,” she said. “Once I saw that my name was forged, I immediately spoke to (Safety Service Director) Eddie Colbert and (Mayor) Doug Franklin about the forgery.
Brown said he noticed the Calkos signature may have been forged because he knows them personally and did not believe the handwriting he saw belonged to Sheila Calko, so he went to their house to ask them about signing the petition. It was at that time he met with Foreback.
“If this happened here, how many other times on these petitions did the same thing happened that I did not catch?” Brown questioned.
On their complaint, the two councilmen said MacPherson failed to provide an itemized financial statement to Flask or to the board of elections.
“We have knowledge that he employed numerous circulators without reporting those expenditures,” the complaint states.
The two men suggest that MacPherson and his circulators violated the law in both substance and spirit.
“We also believe that the referendum suffers from an overall insuffiency of valid signature and must be rejected,” they wrote.