Tipp City school board removal case now hinges on review of petition signatures

Judge sets Nov. 18 deadline for board of elections process; Dunaway, Zakkour still face legal challenge

TROY — A judge Thursday ordered the Miami County Board of Elections to validate signatures on citizen petitions calling for the removal of two Tipp City school board members.

Visiting Judge William Wolff said verification that the petitions have a sufficient number of valid signatures of qualified school district voters is needed for the court to move forward with any decision on whether removal of Theresa Dunaway and Anne Zakkour is warranted.

The Tipp City Concerned Citizens filed the petition to remove Dunaway and Zakkour in county Common Pleas Court late last year.

The group alleges the two board members engaged in inappropriate conduct. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Wolff this summer dismissed some parts of the allegations, finding there was not enough information to litigate them. He left other allegations pending after ruling there was “sufficient particularity” to them that would allow the board members to file a response.

Remaining allegations include that the pair expanded legal services beyond what had been authorized by the board, their involvement in ending open enrollment, and a failure to obey the law and board policies.

The judge initially assigned the case — Jeannine Pratt of Common Pleas Court — earlier this year denied the petitioners’ request for the board of elections verification.

The citizens group stated in its court filings that the elections board was asked before the complaint for removal was filed to verify signatures. They said they were told by the elections office that a court order was needed.

Wolff was assigned to the case by the Ohio Supreme Court this summer after Pratt was recused. He said a finding that there were sufficient signatures collected was needed for the case to continue.

“It is imperative that the Miami County Board of Elections assist the court and parties in resolving this threshold issue,” Wolff wrote.

He ordered the elections board to provide the total number of votes cast for governor in the school district in the last gubernatorial election and determine if those who signed the petitions for removal are qualified voters in the school district.

The following criteria are to be used: The person is a United States citizen, is 18 years old or older, was an Ohio resident for 30 days preceding the signing of the petition, was registered to vote for 30 days prior to signing and that their signature matches the signature on file at the Board of Elections.

Wolff ordered the board to comply with the order by Nov. 18 and submit the requested information to the court. If the deadline is seen as “impracticable due to midterm election responsibilities,” the judge asked the elections board to notify him with suggested deadline.

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