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County hires firm to defend against Ungaro lawsuit

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County commissioners have authorized the hiring of the law firm Brouse McDowell of Canfield at a cost of up to $25,000 to represent the Mahoning County Board of Elections in a lawsuit filed by Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro.

Ungaro filed suit over his removal from the ballot to run as an independent candidate for 59th District Ohio House of Representatives.

Gina DeGenova, chief Mahoning County assistant prosecutor, told the commissioners at their meeting this week that the prosecutor’s office typically represents the board of elections, but the office also serves as legal counsel to all 14 townships, including Poland Township, where Ungaro serves.

“We have a conflict of interest. We can’t take sides, so we are asking for the appointment of outside counsel. We secured Brouse McDowell, and the partner in charge is going to be Matt Vansuch. He has some very good experience in public sector law,” she said.

Vansuch also is a Howland Towhip trustee.

The board of elections voted 3-1 last month not to certify Ungaro.

Jonathan Blackshire of Baldwin Street in Youngstown, a county Democratic Party central committee member, filed a protest against the independent candidacy of Ungaro saying he “is still campaigning as a Democrat” and isn’t eligible to be on the ballot.

Blackshire pointed to Ungaro’s official website gallery section that has the Democratic Party logo on at least 15 photos.

Ungaro’s legal action states that the board “abused its discretion and acted in an unreasonable, arbitrary and unconscionable manner by refusing to place” Ungaro’s name on the ballot. The filing states that the board’s goal “is for the Democratic candidate to appear as the sole name” on the ballot.

The commissioners meeting was held Thursday at the Ohio State Extension Service offices across from the Canfield Fairgrounds. The commissioners and other county officials later rode the “Opening Ceremonies Shuttle” to the fairgrounds to participate in the opening ceremonies of the fair.

The commissioners also approved giving $25,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Audrey Tillis, county administrator, said the $25,000 is from $10 million in “replacement” ARP funds the commissioners were awarded from the federal government. The historical society can use them as it sees fit because replacement funds do not have limitations on how they can be used, she said.

Funding was awarded to replace funds the county had to spend to address the requirements of combating COVID-19, such as extra cleaning of buildings. The county has not yet committed about $11 million of the $44 million in ARP funds it received.

Bill Lawson, executive director of the MVHS, said the society is “surprised, touched and grateful for this resolution. It will help the work we do, not only as a regional historical agency but in the absence of a county historical society, we fill that role.”

He said the Mahoning County aspects of the society’s work are especially true in its educational programs and with its collecting and archiving of records for “future generations.”

“We hold a number of county records, including, of course the 1908 courthouse time capsule contents, but all of the hard copies, originals of Mahoning County Probate Court from 1850 to about 1900.” He said that “working with the Mahoning County Chapter of Ohio Geneological Society — those records are preserved in our archives, and I would say the genealogists love to touch the originals in doing their research.”

Lawson said the $25,000 will “help us immensely in moving our mission but also expanding the ability to preserve the county’s history.”

Lawson was part of the ceremonies and assisted the county commissioners with the Aug. 23 placement of the new time capsule in the cornerstone of the Mahoning County Courthouse. The original one was removed in 2011.

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