By Ed Runyan
After a ruling this week by Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, the council that chooses county health-board members changed its procedures.
The Trumbull County Health District Advisory Council met Wednesday at the county commissioners’ meeting room to chose one of three candidates — former Hartford Township Trustee John Messersmith; John Hull, a former county-commissioner candidate; and incumbent Denise Allen of Braceville Township.
Messersmith received the highest vote total — 16 — and was elected. Second was Hull with 10, and Allen received no votes.
Each township, city and village covered by the health district gets one vote in the process. The cities of Warren, Niles and Girard are not in the district because they have their own health districts.
On Tuesday, Judge Logan ruled that the advisory council must vote in public to decide who will fill the vacancy.
The ruling was part of a larger lawsuit filed by Atty. David Engler on behalf of Trumbull County septic installer Berry Meadows last September, accusing the health department and several employees of the county sheriff’s office of maliciously prosecuting Meadows. It also attempted to stop the health board from taking away Meadows’ license to install septic systems.
Judge Logan has not ruled on any of those matters, but he granted a temporary restraining order on the voting matter.
Engler argued in his temporary-restraining order filing this week that the advisory council’s bylaws require votes to be cast secretly but that Ohio law does not allow this.
Rebecca Whitman, a Hartford Township trustee and secretary for the advisory council, said the council has voted by secret ballot throughout the 14 years she has served on the committee.
She said she doesn’t think the requirement that voters and their votes be identified made any difference in the way anyone voted.
She wonders, though, whether the judge’s ruling could have an effect on the voting done by the Trumbull County Democratic Party Central Committee to fill vacancies for elected office. Those also are done by secret ballot, she said.
The advisory committee also received a legal opinion indicating that “proxy” votes are not allowed, so it refused to allow Don Barzak, a former Johnston Township trustee now working for Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith, to cast votes on behalf of Brookfield Township and the villages of Yankee Lake and Orangeville.