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Elections board ends residency debate

Votes unanimously that Frenchko is Trumbull inhabitant

WARREN — The Trumbull County Board of Elections voted 4-0 Tuesday in determining that Trumbull County commissioner candidate Niki Frenchko is a county resident.

The decision came after a four-hour hearing in which Frenchko provided documentation indicating that she maintains a residence at 170 Kenilworth Ave. SE, Warren.

Afterward, elections board President Mark Alberini said he thought the board acted in concert with the Ohio Revised Code’s definition of residency to determine an elector.

“After all the evidence that was provided, the board voted unanimously that she is a resident of Trumbull County,” he said. “And that is it. She has a house. She pays the bills there. She always has demonstrated an intent to return there, and that checks all the boxes for residency. It is hard to refute that.”

The hearing was not going to threaten her candidacy nor voting ability in November, Alberini said. “It was just a fact-finding hearing.”

“The board agreed that the compliant had no merit. I’m grateful that the BOE (board of elections) unanimously saw through the politically charged charade, and I look forward to focusing on my fight to put people over politics and unseat the 37-year politician,” Frenchko said. “I won this fight against the Columbus attorney, pro-se, and I will keep on fighting to win for the people of Trumbull County.”

QUESTIONING

Frenchko, a Republican, was questioned at length by attorney Rick Brunner, who represented Warren bail bondsman Thomas Cool. It was Cool’s July 7 letter that asked the board to investigate why Frenchko has two addresses, her home in southeast Warren and the other in Mentor, where her youngest daughter goes to school.

Frenchko at times refused to answer questions about her daughter or anything that happened outside the scope of the investigation, which the board determined was from Aug. 19, 2019, through May 28 this year.

At times, Brunner asked Alberini to instruct Frenchko to answer questions, especially dealing with her personal life and the steps taken to register her daughter for school in Mentor.

“The Mentor school officials determined I had sufficient contacts to register my daughter,” Frenchko responded to Brunner, who asked if she had provided documentation to Mentor schools about her residency there.

Frenchko acknowledged she shares a residency in Mentor with her boyfriend Joe Szeman, and told board member Diana Marchese she always intended to return to the Kenilworth address in Warren.

Brunner submitted eight documents, including a payment for Frenchko’s non-residential membership at the Avalon Golf and Country Club. She objected to Brunner submitting documentation about her ex-husband’s child support case, and Brunner agreed not to put those details into the hearing record.

At times during the questioning, Brunner complained to Alberini about Frenchko being evasive.

“Every time she is cornered with some uncomfortable information, she tries to say it is somebody else’s fault,” Brunner said.

Alberini reminded both sides that this was not a trial.

SAYS IT’S POLITICAL

Frenchko, who showed up 15 minutes late for the hearing, has maintained that the investigation has been politically motivated, but Marchese took offense — saying the board “does not operate that way.”

In a five-page letter, Frenchko stated the board was aware last October of her having two addresses. She questioned why she received a text from a Mentor school official asking about her residency an hour after she had voted by absentee ballot on Oct. 25, 2019, at the board of elections office.

“Despite what my political opponents would have people believe, it is actually OK in the United States to live our lives with the freedom to live, work and raise our families in a fashion we believe is best,” Frenchko wrote in the letter to the board.

At times, Brunner questioned the manner in which Frenchko used the Mentor address to get a tuition-free education for her daughter in a district that does not have open enrollment.

Alberini, however, repeatedly stated that the hearing was not about school registration or other personal issues, but rather about residency.

In making her motion to favor Frenchko’s Trumbull County residency, board member Kathi Creed said, “If there was any problem with residency, it would come from the Mentor schools.”

Marchese agreed that Frenchko supplied plenty of evidence supporting her Warren residency, including her voting record, various bills and bank statements all that included the Kenilworth address.

Brunner said afterward that he can’t understand the board’s action, allowing a person to vote in one place and have a child in school in another county.

The hearing originally was scheduled for early August. Some legal maneuvering by Frenchko delayed it, but the Ohio Supreme Court on Aug. 28 denied Frenchko’s request and permitted the hearing. Frenchko, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democrat Daniel Polivka in the Nov. 3 election for a term that begins Jan. 3.

A liaison with Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office also attended Tuesday’s hearing.

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