CITY COUNCIL Official: I will not determine eligibility
Charles Sammarone said he believes he's allowed to run for president of city council.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The city law director says she declined to determine Charles Sammarone's eligibility to run for president of Youngstown City Council because to do so would serve no useful purpose.
In a Wednesday letter to the chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, city Law Director Iris Guglucello wrote that a timely protest to Sammarone's eligibility wasn't filed, and any protest filed now is too late under state law.
Because of that, Guglucello wrote, the elections board doesn't have the authority to consider whether Sammarone is qualified. Guglucello cited a 2002 state Supreme Court decision in her letter.
The elections board recently certified Sammarone as the Democratic candidate for council president in the Nov. 8 election. He won a three-man Democratic primary last month.
Election board Chairman Mark Munroe sent a letter last week to Guglucello after a Vindicator reporter asked the law director and county election board officials if Sammarone is eligible to run based on the city charter.
"I've always felt I was permitted to run," Sammarone said.
Munroe conducted his own research on the issue and agrees with Guglucello that the election board can't remove Sammarone from the ballot at this time.
State law forbids elections boards to invalidate someone's candidacy any later than 50 days before a party's primary. The primary was May 3.
"The Vindicator raised a valid question," Munroe said. "It's a fair question. It's unfortunate the city law director decided not to make a decision. The citizens are entitled to have an answer."
What the city charter says
Section 6 of the Youngstown city charter reads: "The president of council shall be elected by the people for a maximum of two complete consecutive terms of four years each. He will be eligible for election after an intervening term."
That provision was added to the city charter in 1996.
Munroe, a Republican, said he will forward Guglucello's letter and other information to Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains. Munroe wants Gains to determine if Sammarone would be eligible to serve as council president if he defeats Councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, in the November general election.
"You must meet all the qualifications to hold office," Munroe said.
Sammarone was elected in 1997 to a four-year term, and re-elected to a four-year term in 2001. Sammarone resigned in February 2002 to become water commissioner. If Sammarone had not resigned, his second term would have expired Dec. 31.
After Sammarone resigned as council president, then-Councilman John Swierz of the 7th Ward was selected to replace him. Swierz lost the 2003 Democratic primary for the job to then-6th Ward Councilman James Fortune Sr., who won the general election for the seat that year. Fortune's term expires Dec. 31.
Sammarone said the 2003 election is the "intervening term," and he never served "two complete consecutive terms of four years each."
"The charter is pretty simple," he said. "It talks about two complete terms and an intervening term."
Munroe said Sammarone was "elected" to the two four-year terms, and it doesn't matter if he completed the second term. Also, Munroe said, there hasn't been an "intervening term" because the 2003 election was to fill Sammarone's unexpired term.
Munroe disagreed with the last sentence in Guglucello's letter. It states that because the elections board "lacks jurisdiction to prohibit Mr. Sammarone's candidacy, any legal opinion rendered by my office would be gratuitous and serve no useful purpose."
Munroe said there is still a question as to whether Sammarone could serve if he's elected.