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HUBBARD Mayor makes a mistake that jeopardizes campaign



Published: Sat, March 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mayor said he didn't know he couldn't use city workers to help his campaign.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Using city employees to circulate re-election petitions could cost Hubbard Mayor George Praznik his spot on the May primary ballot.

Praznik will find out his fate later this month when the Trumbull County Board of Elections has a hearing.

Of the nine people who circulated nomination petitions to put the two-term mayor back on the ballot, five are city employees.

At least some of them are classified employees -- generally workers who are covered by civil service laws and not permitted to participate in political activity or circulate petitions, elections board officials say.

He didn't know

Praznik said he believed there was no law prohibiting city employees from passing out petitions.

"They aren't allowed to do that?" the two-term mayor asked.

The matter was brought to the board's attention by Art Magee, the former Hubbard mayor and county commissioner, who will be Praznik's opponent in the May Democratic primary. He will present evidence to the board at a hearing March 18.

"The law is clear," Magee said. "The mayor should have known better."

Praznik said the workers who circulated his petitions included a janitor, two road supervisors and the service director. Most had asked him if they could pass the petitions, while a few he asked. They didn't do it on city time, he said.

Magee said one of the city workers told him that he circulated the petition on work time, however.

Election board officials are not sure what penalties Praznik could face if he is found to have violated the section of law that limits political activity by government workers, commonly called the Hatch Act. A legal opinion is expected before the hearing.

Questions

"We are wondering if it will affect the candidacy of Mr. Praznik, or if the circulators will be reprimanded in some way," said Lyn Augustine, the board's deputy director.

The law also could require the board to throw out any petitions circulated by the workers.

To get on the ballot, Praznik turned in petitions with 136 signatures. He needed 50.

In the letter requesting a hearing, Magee did not specify which petitions he believes were circulated by people prohibited from doing so. He said that Praznik could still have enough signatures even without those petitions.

The number of signatures could still fall short if many individual signatures are rejected, however. The board often rejects individual signatures if the signer lives in the wrong voting district, for example.

siff@vindy.com




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