Complaints filed in Sugarcreek-Bellbrook district levy fight

Campaigns for and against the proposed replacement levy are underway in the Sugarcreek-Bellbrook school district.
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Campaigns for and against the proposed replacement levy are underway in the Sugarcreek-Bellbrook school district.

An election finance complaint has been filed and police were called over the weekend as the campaigns for and against a proposed school levy ramp up in the Sugarcreek-Bellbrook School District.

Resident John Stafford is campaigning against the May 7 ballot issue for a 7.5-mill continuous operating levy placed on the ballot by the school district.

The replacement levy would cost property owners about $211 more a year for every $100,000 of value while generating about $4.1 million a year overall for the school district. Compared to the current tax, the increase would generate about $3 million more per year for the district.

Stafford started a Facebook page and a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise awareness and funds for his opposition campaign. Among reasons he opposes the issue: he thinks the district is mismanaging money, and he blames the state funding formula.

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Stafford said he would prefer to do other things, such as running Stafford Jewelers, which he founded.

Sugarcreek Twp. police received two calls for service Saturday morning regarding Stafford, who was distributing vote “no” signs near the high school at Upper Bellbrook and Feedwire roads.

A woman called 911 shortly before 10 a.m. to ask police to check whether Stafford was on school property. The second call came a few minutes later from another woman who claimed Stafford threatened her, according to police records.

Police said Stafford was not cited in either complaint. Stafford said he checked with the township and police ahead of time to find out where he was allowed to distribute the signs.

Stafford said he checked with those authorities after he received a March 15 letter from Nicholas E. Subashi, an attorney representing the school district, advising him that state law and the education board’s policy forbids anyone from political campaign activity on school property.

“If you do enter onto school property for any purpose related to the levy campaign at any time, it will be considered trespassing,” Subashi’s letter reads.

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Superintendent Doug Cozad said he asked the district’s attorney to send the letter after seeing a post on the Facebook page that Stafford administers, indicating he would be handing out the signs on school property.

“(Ohio law) sets forth the permissible uses of school district property by members of the public. The dissemination of levy campaign literature — either for or against — is not one of the approved ones,” Cozad said.

Stafford is cited in a complaint filed with the Ohio Elections Commission that claims he has violated campaign finance laws by not filing the necessary paperwork with the local elections board.

Stafford said he has not been notified of the elections complaint against him, but he is working with a lawyer to determine whether he needs to file campaign finance documents.

“Any money spent so far is all my money,” Stafford said.

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In 23 days, Stafford’s GoFundMe page has had contributions from five people for a total of $344. Stafford said he may refund what has been raised because it’s a relatively small amount, reiterating that he has only spent his own funds so far in making signs and campaign literature.

Ohio law allows for individuals to campaign for political reasons without filing paperwork.

Greene County Board of Elections Director Llyn McCoy said Monday her office has not received any campaign finance documents for a vote “no” group in the Sugarcreek-Bellbrook school district.

A representative with the Citizens for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools could not be reached for comment.

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