The Greene County elections board will resume deliberations Monday on whether Xenia City Council candidates Michael Engle and Will Urschel should be on the November ballot.
Neither candidate had 75 valid signatures on their petitions, the number required by Xenia’s charter, but because of a staffing error those petitions were not red-flagged before the elections board voted to certify them.
Residents Christian Steen and Benjamin Patterson filed protests against the candidates’ petitions and a hearing was held Friday.
Patterson did not attend Friday’s hearing, but Steen presented his case before the board.
“Xenia’s city charter takes precedent in this matter. It states 75 electors to a petition, very simple, cut and dry,” Steen said. “We still have three candidates who will be on the ballot who managed to procure their required 75 petition signatures … There are four open slots, so three would still get in. That leaves a fourth vacancy, which is not uncommon. Council would make an appointment.”
Engle did not attend the hearing because of a work obligation at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Urschel told the board.
Urschel entered into evidence the petition paperwork he received from the Greene County elections office, which states 50 valid signatures are required for his race, the number mandated by Ohio law.
Urschel gathered 84 signatures, but only 68 were deemed valid by the board of elections; Engle gathered 74 signatures, but two were deemed invalid, according to elections office records.
Urschel retired as a technical director on computer systems for aircraft at WPAFB. He recalled his years of service in an impassioned plea before the board.
“I was held accountable for my job because in my job, if I committed an error, people died,” Urschel said. “There were no second chances because we were making decisions for men who were fighting wars around the clock for this nation … It saddens me, now that I’ve completed that service for my country so that I can participate in the right to petition and I may be denied that because of an error of an institution that has a charter to provide me with the required information that’s necessary so I can have a valid petition.”
The elections board, as represented by Greene County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Ellis, presented a document that contains a check-off list which elections staff members use to ensure all the steps were followed to assist candidates’ petitioning for office. Among the list of items checked off is whether the candidates were provided copies of their city charter.
Councilman Edgar Wallace, whose petitions were certified for the ballot, and Councilman Wes Smith both testified on Urschel’s behalf. They claim the confusion on the number of required signatures comes after council members voted in May 2017 to switch to the state’s standard elections paperwork for council races.
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Wallace said that issue was brought to a vote at the request of John Caupp, elections board chairman, in an effort to simplify the elections process.
Elections board member Doris Adams served to chair the proceedings for the board after Caupp recused himself from that role because he is a former Xenia councilman.
Adams acknowledged that the board certified the petitions even though they did not have enough valid signatures, but she challenged Urshel and the other council members speaking on his behalf that they should know what’s required by their city charter.
“If you are an experienced city councilman and you’re familiar with your city charter, that would have (raised) a red flag the moment they handed you the paper,” Adams said.
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