By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee moved Wednesday to investigate complaints that the Trumbull County party broke state and national bylaws in its selection of an interim county commissioner.
The resolution, offered by Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, calls for a three-person panel to review the complaint and determine whether Trumbull Chairman Dan Polivka and others “knowingly violated” party bylaws.
“The executive committee has no tolerance for those who want to shirk their responsibilities and have no concern for the bylaws,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, adding later, “With all due respect to the chairman, he is wrong.”
Legal counsel for Polivka said afterward they were satisfied with the outcome, calling it a victory.
“Our point all along was that we want the Ohio Democratic Party and Chris Redfern in particular to follow his own constitution, follow the constitutional procedures that are in place when disputes like this arise,” said attorney Jeffrey Goodman. “And he’s been popping off in the media and to anyone who will listen about things that he’s going to do and things that he thinks he’s done. ... Dan Polivka didn’t do anything wrong. The Trumbull County party didn’t do anything wrong.”
Polivka added later, “We’ve been fighting the good fight and will continue to fight the good fight.”
At issue are secret ballots used by the Trumbull County Democratic Party in July to select Mauro Cantalamessa as interim county commissioner, replacing Paul Heltzel, who died in office. The selection was affirmed publicly by Trumbull party members, via a voice vote.
Legal counsel for Polivka said the secret ballot was allowed under the county party’s bylaws, though state and national party bylaws require public votes.
Polivka said secret ballots have been used by the county party for two decades, though the county is reviewing the bylaws issue.
But Redfern called for a public revote of the commissioner selection and said he would otherwise push for Polivka’s removal as county chairman.
“There’s no debate — it’s not, hey, let’s negotiate or compromise,” Redfern said. “He’s got to have bylaws that are in accordance with the DNC’s bylaws. … By his own admission, Chairman Polivka did not follow ODP bylaws. … You can’t have secret ballots, it’s against the rules.”
The resolution adopted by the state party’s executive committee Wednesday night calls for a three-person panel — headed by Tim Burke and including Bill DeMora and Martha Campbell — to examine the Trumbull party’s bylaws and the commissioner selection process and determine if violations occurred.
The resolution leaves in place sanctions already issued by Redfern, including withholding discount postage and voter lists used by candidates in their campaigns.
“He can certainly call a meeting and adjust the bylaws,” Redfern said. “He must have a revote, because we don’t recognize the vote as ever occurring. Once that occurs, then access to the voter file, the sample ballot, begins.”
He added, “I’m hopeful that Chairman Polivka comes to his senses. …”
But Polivka said the county party has paid its assessment to the state party and, under the latter’s constitution, should have access to voter lists and mailing support.
“That’s a bunch of malarkey,” he said. “We have candidates, we have a new commissioner that’s running for commissioners, we have candidates that are running for judge, and they’re unilaterally saying that we don’t have vote builder or bulk mail, which is totally against their constitution.”
Goodman also disputed the sanction issue, however.
“No sanctions have ever been imposed on the Trumbull County Democratic Party or Dan Polivka,” he said. “We haven’t been put on notice of any sanctions. ... That’s the kind of attention to detail that you get from a David Betras or a Chris Redfern. And that’s the kind of attention to detail that led to Redfern’s lack of vetting of the current gubernatorial candidate in Ohio. Things in his office are a mess, things in Trumbull County are just fine.”
The resolution was adopted quickly with little discussion, other than comments from state Rep. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, who supported the measure.
Polivka and his attorneys and supporters were not allowed to speak and ruled out of order by Redfern when they tried to offer comments.
His attorneys said they planned to offer evidence, call witnesses and prove their point as part of the examination process.
“We’re very confident in our legal position,” Goodman said. “We’re confident that Trumbull County hasn’t done anything wrong. And at the end of it, we’re still hoping that there can be some party unity. At this point, that’s probably going to take an apology from Chris Redfern to the precinct committee people in Trumbull County and the people of Trumbull County, who have been very insulted by this entire process and by his attitude.”