The state auditor unveiled his proposal in the Mahoning Valley because of a former local sheriff's past actions.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
BOARDMAN --Ohio Auditor Jim Petro is proposing the state enact a law allowing elected officials indicted of crimes in office to be suspended with pay pending the outcome of their trials.
"Local officials who are indicted for felony crimes related to their offices should be suspended to protect the public interest," Petro said today at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber's Salute to Business Awards breakfast. "They should not be left in a position of decision-making authority where they could continue to break the law and the public's trust."
Petro, the Republican attorney general candidate, said he specifically made the announcement of his proposal in the Mahoning Valley because of former Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance's refusal in 1999 to step down from his office. Indicted on corruption charges, Chance was convicted and is serving a 71-month prison sentence.
"There were a lot of calls to the governor's office when Phil Chance was indicted," Petro said. "People wanted the governor to exercise his removal authority, but it's difficult to do under current law."
The current state law permits the governor to seek a court order for the removal of an elected official indicted on a felony, Petro said.
Under Petro's proposal, he said it will be easier.
About the proposal
The plan calls for a three-person commission, chaired by the state attorney general, to assess whether an indictment of an elected public official could negatively affect the administration of official duties and interests of the public. The commission would also include two people in similar capacities -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from other counties in the state.
The commission would forward a report to the governor, who would be allowed to suspend the elected official with pay until that person's criminal proceedings are concluded, Petro said. That commission would also be responsible for appointing an interim replacement to the indicted official, he said.
Petro said he studied the laws of several states and modeled his proposal after one that is used in Georgia.
State Rep. Tim Schaffer, a Lancaster Republican, is sponsoring Petro's bill in the Ohio House. Petro said it is possible that the state Legislature could enact his bill this year, but it is more likely that it will be done next year.
The law would affect every elected local and state officeholder in Ohio, Petro said. It does not affect federal officials in Ohio, such as members of Congress and federal judges, Petro said.
"The Valley has expressed concern about someone remaining in office while under indictment," Petro said.
There have been at least 40 elected state officials who were indicted who refused to step down in the past eight years, including Chance and former Youngstown Municipal Judge Patrick Kerrigan, Petro said.
"An elected official in that position has a lot of power and has the ability to abuse it," he said.