A complaint was served Thursday to the Fayette County Republican Central Committee alleging a Public Records Act violation in the recent appointment of Aaron Coole as Fayette County Auditor.
Coole was sworn in last week. He was appointed this month by the Fayette County Republican Central Committee to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of former auditor Mike Smith.
A private citizen filed the complaint April 19 in the civil division of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. The complainant in the civil case is Jomi L. Ward, of Jefferson Township. Wayne Arnold, chairperson for the Fayette County Republican Central Committee, was served with the complaint April 20, according to records.
The complaint states there is a possible violation of “Ohio Sunshine Law and open meetings act.” The complaint does not provide specific details as to the allegation of how Ohio law was violated by the Fayette County Republican Central Committee.
As of Tuesday, Ward was unable to be reached for comment on the complaint. Ward is the fiscal officer for Jefferson Township and a message was left for Ward at the number provided on the Fayette County Township Trustees’ phone list.
Ward cites two chapters of the Ohio Revised Code and a 1981 opinion from the office of the Ohio Attorney General in the complaint.
The complaint cites Ohio Revised Code chapter 121 “Public meetings — exceptions.”
Chapter 121 of the Ohio Revised Code explains that some committees or groups may be granted an exception to following open meeting laws: for example meetings of the county’s grand juries, certain medical boards and criminal investigations committees.
But according to the opinion from the office of the Ohio Attorney General, of which the complaint cites, members of a county’s central committee of a political party is a public body and its members are public officials under Chapter 121 and are not exempt from following open meeting laws.
The complaint also cites Ohio Revised Code chapter 305 “Vacancy in county offices filled by election or appointment.”
This chapter describes the process for filling a vacancy to a county position, including a provision that written notice must be mailed to every member of the central committee with notification of the meetings to discuss the appointment. The voting for the appointment must be done in an open meeting and not in executive session, according to the law.
It is unclear from Ward’s complaint as to how the alleged open meeting violation happened. Ward’s complaint was amended April 20 to ask for a stay of Coole’s swearing-in until the possible violation of the Sunshine Law can be investigated. The complaint asks for a formal reply of the findings.
The Fayette County Republican Central Committee did not immediately reply for comment Tuesday.
Coole received more votes than Brenda Mossbarger, who was the acting auditor at the time, according to the Republican committee. A vote total was not released by the committee.
The Record-Herald will continue to update this story as more information comes about.
Ashley may be contacted by calling her directly at (740) 313-0355 or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton