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Discord plagues Trumbull GOP

David Skolnick

The Trumbull County Republican Party has been in a state of flux for nearly a year with resignations from seven party officers.

The recent election of new officers has done little to smooth over the divisiveness.

By most accounts, Michael Bollas, elected chairman last week, is well liked and respected by party members.

In defeating former party chairman Kevin Wyndham for the leadership position 37-22, Bollas said his top priority was “to bring the factions together.”

But immediately following Bollas’ election as chairman, he permitted Cheryl Tennant, his sister, and Marleah Campbell to seek removal of county Commissioner Niki Frenchko as auxiliary chairwoman.

Frenchko was appointed to the post at a June 10 party reorganization meeting when no one else wanted it.

It wasn’t until after a vote to remove Frenchko was postponed that the party’s executive committee elected Tennant as deputy treasurer and Campbell as secretary at the Aug. 4 meeting.

The eligibility of Frenchko and some other officer candidates was raised at the June 10 meeting. Despite numerous requests to address it before the votes, party leadership refused to discuss it then.

The issue stems from a March 12 meeting at which the central committee changed its bylaws to state its elected officers “must be a registered Republican for four consecutive years.”

In a letter to central committee members before the meeting from Tennant, who declined June 10 to run for re-election as secretary, typed in red italics and underlined was: “If you are considering running for any office, you must provide a certified voter history from the Trumbull Board of Elections showing that you have been a registered Republican in Trumbull County for four years.”

Frenchko voted issues only in 2018, the same year she unsuccessfully ran for county commissioner as an independent. She didn’t become affiliated with the Republican Party until 2020, when she successfully ran for commissioner. Prior to that, Frenchko voted Democratic in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

That would mean she doesn’t meet the four-year requirement.

Frenchko pointed out that Robert Carr, the party’s first vice chairman, didn’t vote in the 2018 or 2020 Republican primaries, making him also ineligible for his position.

Kenneth Kline, who resigned July 17 as chairman after winning re-election at the June 10 reorganization meeting, and his daughter, Gabrielle, who was elected June 10 as party secretary and resigned July 19, had their eligibility questioned as they voted nonpartisan in 2019 when they had the opportunity to vote as Republicans. The younger Kline voted for the first time this past May as a Republican.

Bollas, Tennant and Campbell said Carr and Frenchko were different.

“The R carries over until you change it,” Campbell said.

Bollas added that the “bylaws say four years consecutive voting. It doesn’t say anything about primaries.”

Ohio election law, according to the secretary of state’s office, is that “an individual affiliates with a political party by voting in that party’s primary election. An individual does not register a political party preference when they register to vote.”

Also, under state law, “An elector is considered to be a member of a political party if they voted in that party’s primary election within the preceding two calendar years.”

Carr voted in the 2022 Republican primary. He didn’t in 2018 or 2020 and before that, voted in the 2016 Republican primary.

Tennant read the bylaws that state party officers can be removed for three reasons — none of which mentions violating the Republican voting requirement — at a meeting called for that specific purpose with a two-thirds vote in favor of removal.

Despite objections, those wanting to remove Frenchko persisted.

There was finally a moment of reason when Steve Tharp, a central committeeman, said: “Clearly, the table is not prepared to address this issue,” and “we have destroyed all of the collegial atmosphere that we had here.”

Bollas then agreed that proper notice would be given for a meeting at a later date to consider Frenchko’s removal.

As for Carr, that wasn’t discussed. But he told me he’s giving serious consideration to resigning because being a party officer is taking up too much of his time.

It looks like Bollas has a lot of work to do in unifying the party.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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