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Trumbull Board of Elections should be given legal help



Published: Sun, August 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The highest priority of government is not putting those things that politicians find unpleasant behind them.

That's a message that Trumbull County commissioners James Tsagaris and Joseph Angelo should take to heart.

Angelo and Tsagaris would like to put behind them the controversy surrounding the re-election of Sheriff Thomas Altiere. So when a motion was made the other day to hire a lawyer to represent the Trumbull County Board of Elections at a hearing before the Ohio Elections Commission on Altiere's campaign finances, Angelo and Tsagaris sat on their hands.

The motion by Commissioner Michael J. O'Brien died for lack of a second.

"The issue is over, and I'm not going to spend any more of Trumbull County's money," said Tsagaris. "Sheriff Altiere has been voted in by the people." Angelo said he hopes the decision not to hire a lawyer will hasten the end of questions surrounding Altiere's election.

But the issue isn't over, and the county -- through its board of elections -- does have an interest in the continuing saga of Altiere's campaign finances. The county board's investigation found numerous unanswered questions about how Altiere raised and spent campaign money and that report was forwarded to the commission.

Normally, the county prosecutor's office would represent the board of elections at a legal proceeding, but since the office also represents the sheriff's office -- though not Altiere in the election dispute -- outside counsel was recommended.

Wrong message: The message that Tsagaris and Angelo are sending is a doubly dangerous one. They are proclaiming their own political sensibilities to be superior to the county's legal interest. And they are saying that enforcement of campaign finance rules is not a priority in Trumbull County.

What's worse, they are disingenuous in their attempts to justify their inaction, claiming that the cost is too high. While it is true that the county has spent $15,000 so far on the case, and while that is not an amount to be sneezed at, it is a small price to pay to assure a level playing field in something as important as the election of the county's primary law enforcement officer. Or the election of any county official, for that matter.




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