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Trumbull GOP set to violate bylaws with meeting

Leadership scrambles to meet deadline on Monday to select judicial candidate

In an acknowledged violation of its bylaws, the Trumbull County Republican Party’s central committee will hold an “emergency meeting” Sunday to recommend a candidate for an open seat on the common pleas court bench.

The deadline is 4 p.m. Monday for political parties to file a candidate’s name to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot for the judicial seat.

The Friday email from “party officers” states: “We realize that this does not comply with the 10 (day) notice provision in the bylaws, but this situation requires that provision to be bypassed. This meeting is necessary to recommend a candidate to the board of elections for the open judgeship at the common pleas court. The deadline to do so is Monday.”

The bylaws read: “With a 10-day notice, regular and special meetings may be called by the chairman or acting chairman or by any five members of the executive committee or by any 10 members of the central committee. Proper notice constitutes 10 calendar days, starting from the postmark date, but not counting the day of the meeting.”

Michael Bollas, elected county Republican chairman Aug. 4, said Thursday his party wouldn’t file a nominee by the deadline because it still was interviewing candidates to provide up to three recommendations for Gov. Mike DeWine to choose from to fill the seat now.

The party since has forwarded to DeWine, a Republican, the names of the three attorneys who applied for the appointment: Sarah Thomas Kovoor of Howland, Margo S. Meola of Warren and David Engler of Weathersfield.

DeWine won’t have a decision by Monday’s deadline.

The person selected by DeWine was to be the party’s nominee, but Bollas said Thursday he just became aware of the Monday filing deadline and would let it pass with the possibility of having a write-in candidate, as the party would have until Aug. 29 for that.

The emergency meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at the GOP headquarters in Howland.

Bollas couldn’t be reached Friday to comment. Also, Robert Carr, first vice chairman, and Kathi Creed, second vice chairwoman, couldn’t be reached Friday to comment.

Peter Kontos, a Democrat, retired July 31 as a common pleas court judge with more than four years left on his term. He announced his decision July 19.

It is possible that the party’s candidate for the Nov. 8 ballot and whoever is selected by DeWine to succeed Kontos could be two different people.

Because of the timing of Kontos’ early retirement, it was left to the central committees of the county Democratic and Republican parties to nominate candidates for the Nov. 8 election as the primary date had passed. DeWine’s appointee will serve until the election results are certified.

The winner of the Nov. 8 election would serve the remainder of Kontos’ term, which ends Dec. 31, 2026.

The Democratic central committee on Thursday voted to name Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, an 11th District Court of Appeals judge since 2003, as the party’s candidate.

REPUBLICAN REACTION

County Commissioner Niki Frenchko, the Republican Party’s auxiliary chairwoman, told party officials and a DeWine staff member immediately after Kontos announced his retirement that she wanted to discuss sending a letter to DeWine about appointing Kovoor, the only Republican at the time to express interest in the seat.

“Since Day One, I’ve been trying to get them to carry out the business they needed to accomplish, and they’ve failed at doing that,” Frenchko said.

Frenchko said Sunday’s meeting “violates the bylaws. They acknowledged that.”

Frenchko is a party officer but wasn’t involved in scheduling the meeting.

Frenchko texted Bollas on Aug. 5 asking to be on the judicial selection committee, a request that Bollas rejected later that day.

In response, Frenchko wrote: “An officer and only countywide elected officials should be a member of the committee. Demonstrate some leadership. The first meeting hasn’t occurred, you can add me. It’s been customary that your clique confers with Marleah (Campbell, the party’s secretary) before responding to anything. Leaders don’t follow a group — (they) create their own way.”

Campbell and Cheryl Tennant — the party’s deputy treasurer and Bollas’ sister — sought to have Frenchko removed as an officer at the Aug. 4 meeting in which they, along with Bollas, were elected because Frenchko’s voting record likely conflicts with the party’s bylaws.

The party had elected three other officers at a June 10 reorganization meeting who also likely have conflicts. Two of them — Kenneth Kline as chairman and his daughter, Gabrielle, as secretary — resigned last month, but not because of their eligibility.

Kevin Wyndham, a former party chairman who unsuccessfully ran for the seat at the Aug. 4 meeting, said: “There is no scenario or circumstance which would legitimize this meeting. Any business conducted at all is not valid. Bylaws are in place for very obvious reasons and they are difficult to change on purpose. Leadership for the last 18 months acts as though bylaws and Robert’s Rules (of Order) don’t apply to them. It will damage the local party for years.”

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