Missed deadline continues Campbell water dispute


The city finance director filed the petitions 31 minutes late.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

CAMPBELL — Citizens who worked to place an initiative denying the city an opportunity to lease or sell its water plant did everything correctly to get the item on the November ballot, Campbell city and Mahoning County elections officials say.

But, as of now, the initiative won’t be in front of voters in November.

That’s because city Finance Director John Leskovyansky Jr. submitted the initiative to the Mahoning County Board of Elections at 4:31 p.m. Thursday — 31 minutes after the state-imposed 4 p.m. deadline to submit petitions for the November ballot.

Leskovyansky said conversations he had with elections board employees confused him and led him to believe the filing deadline was at the end of the board’s business day, which is 5 p.m.

The late filing wasn’t done purposely, Leskovyansky added.

Even though city officials want to lease or sell the plant and the initiative is holding up that plan, Leskovyansky said, “I want it on the ballot. It’s in the best interests of everyone.”

Skeptical

But not everyone is convinced that this was a mistake.

“This was done intentionally,” said Flora Hodge, one of the Campbell residents who organized the petition drive. “It’s obvious they’re playing games with the petitions. ... The government isn’t being truthful to the citizens of the city. Something is dreadfully wrong when government does this.”

Hodge sued the city earlier this month over what she claims were intentional delays in the citizen initiative.

The petitions, with enough valid signatures, were given to the city administration to review in March and sat at city hall for months. It wasn’t until Hodge sued that the petitions were given to the elections board. After that, Hodge dropped the lawsuit.

The petitions were returned by the elections board to the city for a final review, as required by state law, and were then to be returned to the board by the filing deadline.

Elections officials are talking to the Ohio secretary of state’s office and the county prosecutor, their attorney, to determine if the citizen initiative petitions can be accepted and placed in front of voters Nov. 6.

The secretary of state’s election calendar, citing several laws, states the filing deadline for local questions, issues and options was 4 p.m. last Thursday.

Board to discuss issue

The elections board will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday to make a decision on this issue as well as to certify the list of nonpartisan candidates and questions, issues and options.

Joyce Kale Pesta, the deputy elections director, isn’t pleased the board is being put in the middle of this issue.

“I think [Campbell officials] knew the filing deadline,” she said. “All the candidates filed on time. It throws a monkey wrench into this.”

Kale Pesta wouldn’t say if she believed the 4:31 p.m. filing time was done on purpose.

Mayor John E. Dill would say only that he just found out about the problem Monday and that it’s the responsibility of Leskovyansky, an at-will employee hired by the mayor and city council, to file the petitions on a timely basis.

The city, in state fiscal emergency since 2004, tried to sell its water plant in 2005 to Aqua Ohio Inc., a private water distribution company, for $3 million up front and $300,000 annual payments for a decade. Also, Aqua had agreed to pay the city’s $4.2 million debt for repairs and upgrades to the plant.

A citizens referendum on the November 2006 ballot rejected that deal.

Youngstown wants to buy the plant for less money up front, but Dill says that proposal is better than Aqua’s for his city in the long term because Youngstown is offering economic incentives to stimulate job creation in Campbell.

skolnick@vindy.com

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