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NORTHEAST OHIO Questions raised over field rep



Published: Fri, September 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Michael G. Clarett will be a liaison between the Ohio secretary of state and area election boards.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Youngstown man who has been kicked off the ballot twice for problems with his nominating petition is serving as the Ohio secretary of state's field representative for Northeast Ohio.

In the new $37,003-a-year job, Michael G. Clarett, 43, is Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's "eyes and ears" in the Youngstown-Cleveland area and will help boards of elections in seven counties when officials there have "procedural questions," said Carlo LoParo, Blackwell's spokesman.

Clarett's region includes Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties.

Prior ballot problems

Michael Sciortino, Mahoning elections board director, is less than impressed with Blackwell's selection of Clarett. Sciortino points to Clarett's removal from the ballot on two different occasions as his reason for concern.

"I don't know how useful the field rep will be," Sciortino said. "Time will tell. But the board is going to be entrusting a lot of communication and responsibility with [Clarett] on issues involving voters and ballot issues. I don't know how much experience is going to play into that. He was removed from the ballot for multiple mistakes multiple times."

Norma Williams, Trumbull elections board director, said she has yet to meet with Clarett and had no comment on his ability to do the job.

Clarett could not be reached Thursday to comment.

The Mahoning elections board disqualified Clarett in 1999 as a candidate for the Youngstown Board of Education because he did not follow the legal procedures for circulating petitions. He ran that year as a write-in candidate. The board also threw Clarett off the ballot before the May primary as a Republican precinct committeeman candidate because Clarett listed the wrong precinct number on his nominating form.

Field rep's duties

LoParo said his office is not concerned with Clarett's past election problems.

"The field reps don't serve as election counsels; they are not election-law experts," he said. "We have attorneys in Columbus who do that. Our field reps serve as election-board advocates and have day-to-day contact. The field reps help with internal problems" at local election boards.

Sciortino, a Democrat, said politics probably had a lot to do with Clarett's hiring. Clarett and Blackwell are both Republicans.

But LoParo said Blackwell hired Clarett based on their experience together on the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. Blackwell served as the board's co-chairman. Clarett was its Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia field representative and focused on identifying methods to reduce the undercounting of minorities and children in the 2000 Census.

Before working for the Census, Clarett, a 1977 Cardinal Mooney High School graduate, was a television production engineer at WKBN and owned a delivery service.

Clarett is currently working out of his home but will relocate shortly to the state office tower in Cleveland.

Reviving posts

The secretary of state's office has been without field representatives since 1990, when Sherrod Brown lost a re-election bid. Then-Secretary of State Bob Taft eliminated the positions, and Blackwell did not appoint any when he was elected to the post in 1998.

But Blackwell decided to bring them back because of problems at various boards of elections that demanded more focus than could be given from his employees in Columbus, LoParo said. Besides Clarett, there are four other field representatives.

skolnick@vindy.com




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