Veteran Youngstown lawmaker Charles Sammarone, currently the city's water commissioner and the Democratic nominee for city council president, reads the Youngstown Home Rule Charter as permitting him to hold office should he win the November general election.
Republican Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, reads the charter as prohibiting Sammarone from serving if he's successful. Two things should be pointed out: first, Munroe looked at the charter's provision relating to the term of office for council president only after a question was raised by a Vindicator reporter about Sammarone's eligibility to run; second, there is a Republican in the general election, Councilman Richard Atkinson, who represents the 3rd Ward.
City Law Director Iris Guglucello has refused to say who's right, the Democratic nominee or the elections board Republican chairman. Here's the reason Guglucello gives for not rendering an opinion, as sought by Munroe: state law and a Ohio Supreme Court ruling make it clear that a challenge of an individual's candidacy must be filed within a specified period of time. Indeed, the board of elections certified Sammarone as the winner of the May Democratic primary. He defeated two other candidates.
So, is this much ado about nothing? Not necessarily.
The charter provision that limits a council president to two consecutive terms was approved by voters in 1996 after the issue was inadvertently left off the ballot in 1993. Then, voters approved four-year terms for ward representatives. The council president's term is designed to coincide with the mayoral term.
Given the ambiguity that exists today as to what the council president provision means, an objective analysis is warranted.
Munroe has asked county Prosecutor Paul Gains to review the issue and offer his interpretation. But seeing as how Gains is a Democratic officeholder, does anyone believe his word will be taken as gospel by the Republicans?
We would suggest that the only way to come up with a reading of the charter that will satisfy everyone is for two individuals, a Democrat and a Republican, with experience in elections law to conduct a review.
They could start by talking to the law director and members of council who were involved in the 1996 ballot issue. The officials should be asked to explain how the provision for the two consecutive terms would apply if the council president left before the end of his second term, as Sammarone did. Would he still have to sit out an intervening four years before he could run again?
These are important questions that deserve definitive answers because the issue of Sammarone's status is now part of the political discourse in the city -- as a result of the question posed by The Vindicator. Absent clear answers, the general election will be held under a cloud and there is a possibility of a court challenge being filed should Sammarone win.
There's enough time to resolve this before the fall campaign.