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Nonprofit sues Columbiana County Board of Elections

Group alleges violations of sunshine laws

LISBON — A nonprofit group known as Open Government Advocates in care of Brian Ames of Mogadore filed a lawsuit last week against the Columbiana County Board of Elections and its four board members alleging violations of the state’s open meetings act.

The board members named include Columbiana County Board of Elections Chairman David Johnson, Victor Maroscher, Patricia Colian and Laird (Larry) Bowersock. Both Johnson and Maroscher are Republicans, and Colian and Bowersock are Democrats.

The complaint filed last week in Columbiana Common Pleas Court becomes the latest attempt by Ames to accuse a governmental agency of wrongdoing regarding the open meetings act. He currently has multiple appeals filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio for pending cases involving entities in Trumbull and Portage counties and other parts of the state.

Targets have included school boards, boards of trustees and boards of commissioners.

The latest lawsuit claims the Columbiana County Board of Elections failed to establish a rule for notification of its meetings during its organizational meeting in March 2021 or other meeting and did not provide notice of the meetings that properly reached the general public.

The lawsuit alleges that the board only provided notice to news media and select individuals through email and didn’t require any news media to publish the notices, with media publication of notices discretionary.

The lawsuit claims that each meeting conducted without proper notice constituted a separate violation of the Open Meetings Act and any actions taken during those meetings would be invalid. The board of elections is responsible for certifying results of the elections held in the county.

Additionally, the lawsuit states the minutes of the meetings failed to record the rationale behind decisions and only recorded the general topics of conversations and the roll calls, which was improper under the law. The lawsuit claims each alleged failure to keep proper minutes for each meeting resulted in a separate violation.

The court was asked to award injunctive relief and invalidation under the open meetings act, meaning a $500 civil forfeiture for each violation and an order invalidating actions taken during the meetings.

Johnson, who’s also the county Republican Party chairman, said: “We abide by all the rules and all the laws that govern the board of elections. We’ve had a long history of maintaining open meetings and open records as required by law.”

He added that he was confident that nobody on the board or the staff had done anything improper.

The elections board is legally represented by the county prosecutor’s office. County Prosecutor Vito Abruzzino said, ” … we’ll analyze it and defend it vigorously,” noting the meetings for the board of elections are posted as required.

“We know for a fact that this gentleman has filed these type of complaints all over the state,” Abruzzino said.

Ames filed an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month regarding a case he filed against the Portage County Board of Commissioners. The Portage County Common Pleas Court tossed the lawsuit as frivolous, with the 11th District Court of Appeals agreeing with the opinion.

The high court held arguments earlier this year on an appeal involving the Rootstown Township Board of Trustees with a decision pending. Multiple other cases remain pending.

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