Lawsuit alleges Fayette County Auditor nominated by secret ballot


The suit filed alleging Aaron Coole was nominated as auditor illegally behind closed doors with a secret ballot has been amended for a second time and now includes the names of 26 individual defendants in the Republican Central Committee of Fayette County.

The original complaint was filed in the civil division of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas April 19 and then amended for the first time April 20. The original complaint filed April 19 was a single page in length; the amended complaint filed May 30 is 10 pages in length.

The suit alleges the Republican Central Committee violated open meeting laws in Ohio during the appointment of Fayette County Auditor Aaron Coole, who took the place of retiring county auditor Mike Smith.

Smith, having retired in March, is now a plaintiff in the suit alleging the committee improperly entered into executive session, voted by secret ballot, announced the results of the vote, and appointed Coole as auditor without releasing to the public the results of the vote. These allegations would violate state open meeting laws, which under the Ohio Revised Code specifically mandate the process by which public meetings are conducted and county public officials are appointed.

The meeting in question occurred April 13 at the Center for Economic Opportunity in Washington Court House. The complaint explains 19 defendant committee members met in person and heard presentations from two potential auditor appointees, one of whom was Coole.

Here’s what the complaint states:

“At the conclusion of those presentations, the member of the Central Committee presiding over the meeting — Defendant Gordon Conn — declared that the Central Committee would enter executive session. At that time, all attendees of the meeting who were not voting members of the Central Committee were expelled from the room.

No official moved to adjourn into executive session, nor did any one second such a motion to adjourn. No official identified the purpose for entering executive session or identified the matter or matters to be considered during executive session. The Central Committee did not conduct a roll call vote prior to entering executive session, nor did the Central Committee enter executive session only following a majority vote of the Committee Members who were in attendance.

While still in executive session, the Central Committee and Committee Members in attendance voted on the question of whom to appoint to the vacant office of County Auditor.

The vote conducted during the executive session by the Central Committee and Committee Members was done by secret ballot.

At the conclusion of the vote conducted during executive session, the Central Committee and Committee Members invited Defendant Coole and the other candidate into the room, and upon information and belief, informed the two of the outcome of the vote.

The Central Committee then re-opened the meeting, Defendant Conn declared Defendant Coole received the most votes to fill the vacant county auditor’s seat, and Defendant Conn then closed the meeting.”

Since the April 13 meeting, the committee has refused the vote totals for Coole and the other candidate and information about which candidate each committee member voted for because the meeting was done by secret ballot, according to the complaint. The complaint also states the committee failed to keep any minutes of the meeting April 13 during which the vote was taken. Following the meeting, Coole was sworn in as the new Fayette County Auditor.

In addition to former auditor Smith, Jomi Ward and Cathy Templin are named as plaintiffs in the suit, all of whom are members of the Republican Central Committee. The complaint states that Templin is the Fayette County Recorder, but brings the suit only in her individual, and not official, capacity.

The 26 members of the Republican Central Committee named as defendants in the lawsuit are: Wayne Arnold, Gordon Conn, Jim Chrisman, Carol Cramer, Lauran Perrill, Susan Merriweather, John Link, Ronald Palmer, Marlene Rankin, Andrew Bivens, Oscar McKinney, Sidney Terhune, Ted Hawk, Dan Roberts, Frank Breedlove, Karen Abendshien, Evelyn Pentzer, Tabitha Melvin, Susan Jordan, Charles Anderson, Robin Beekman, Diane O’Cull, E. Renee Loyd, Martha Cooper, Ruth Ann Ruth, and Aaron Coole.

The complaint states that the defendants are sued in their official capacities as public officials and members of the central committee.

For allegedly improperly entering into executive session, voting by secret ballot, and refusing to disclose to the public the total vote results or identify how any of the committee members voted, the plaintiffs are asking for an injunction to all actions taken April 13 by the central committee, including the nomination of Coole, and ask that the Fayette County Auditor seat be declared as vacant. In addition, the plaintiffs ask for a civil forfeiture of $500 and an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses.

A copy of the amended complaint was delivered to the defendants through certified mail June 7.

Members of the Republican Central Committee have been contacted for interviews but at this time have not been available to speak on record about the lawsuit.

Three members file lawsuit against Republican Central Committee

By Ashley Bunton

[email protected]

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching for @ashbunton