The county elections board might end up suing the county commissioners.
By PEGGY SINKOVICHand STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The attorney hired to represent the Trumbull County Board of Elections at an Ohio Election Commission hearing on the county sheriff's campaign expenses will get paid, says the elections board, even though county commissioners have said they won't pay him.
Norma Williams, director of the board of elections, said the board sent a letter to Atty. George McCue Monday stating that his services will end at the conclusion of Thursday's hearing.
Promised to pay: "We, as a board, assure you that you will be paid in full for services rendered as stated in our initial request for representation," the letter states. The letter was signed by all four members of the board.
Williams said that if the commissioners refuse to pay the legal bill, the board will take court action.
"I'm not surprised," said Michael O'Brien, the one county commissioner who favored paying the outside lawyer for the board of elections.
The hiring had been recommended by Dennis Watkins, the county prosecutor, who said his department could not represent the board because its close relationship with Sheriff Thomas Altiere would create a conflict of interest.
"I think that the board of elections is no different than any other department, and when you are a party to a lawsuit, it is best to be represented by an attorney," O'Brien said.
Opposed the hiring: Commissioners James Tsagaris and Joseph Angelo opposed hiring an outside attorney for the board of elections in this case, though they said they would pay the legal bills for the board of election in a case against Altiere pending in the 5th District Court of Appeals in Canton.
"Enough is enough," Angelo said after the commissioners' decision not to hire a lawyer for the hearing.
Angelo said Monday that he could not comment on the election board's decision until he talks to James Misocky, the assistant county prosecutor who advises the commissioners.
Tsagaris also said he wanted to discuss the situation with county lawyers. But he said he was also not surprised at the board of election's decision.
"I'm surprised it took them so long," he said.
Campaign finance reports: The hearing, to be Thursday in Columbus, came about after the county board of elections unanimously voted to submit to the Ohio Elections Commission results of an investigation of the sheriff's financial reports from 1993 to 2000. The investigation found numerous unanswered questions about how Altiere raised and spent campaign money, Williams said.
The county board's investigation and a complaint filed by William Jobe, a private citizen, were combined before the Ohio Elections Commission.
A letter from Phillip C. Richter, the commission's executive director, to attorneys in the case said the hearing would not be delayed even if the board of elections did not have legal representation.
"From some of the materials submitted to the Elections Commission and the Trumbull County board it would appear that Altiere has done a great deal of work to come into compliance," the letter also states.
Altiere said this morning that he has worked "extremely hard" to do everything asked by the board of elections.
"I've bent over backwards to do what I could to make it right," Altiere said. "If they tell me what they want, I will do it. I want everything to be right and I've really tried."
Subpoenas: Jobe's attorneys issued subpoenas for 29 local companies. Half of these had been served by Monday afternoon.
The subpoenas state that representatives of those companies must appear in Columbus Thursday and bring any record of a contribution made by or drawn upon an account of the company from Jan. 1, 1993, through June 30, 2000, to Altiere or his campaign committee.
"I just get this subpoena [Monday] and I have to get seven years of financial records together by Thursday," said Nick Francos, owner of Buena Vista Cafe, Buena Vista Avenue, Warren. "I'm not going. I am going to send my son."
Maurice Skiffey, of Skiffey Realty Associates in Niles, who was issued a subpoena, said Monday he recalled donating to Altiere's campaign with a corporate check within the last few years.
The campaign returned the check and he wrote out a new one on a personal account.
He said did not think he would have anything to add to the proceedings in Columbus.
"I don't know how they expect anyone to get the subpoena today and make it by Thursday," he said.