BRYAN — Williams County’s board of elections voted to remove the incumbent sheriff’s name from the March 17 primary during a lengthy hearing here Monday afternoon.
The four-member board, which oversees the county’s board of elections office, unanimously approved a motion removing Republican Steve Towns from the ballot following almost two hours of testimony.
Towns, whose second, four-year term is due to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, had been a candidate along with three other candidates (Shaun Faulk, Tom Kochert and Tim Livengood) in the March GOP primary. They were seeking the Republican nomination for the November general election where a four-year term, beginning in January 2021, is at stake.
But all three protested Towns’ candidacy, noting that he had been convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor (on Nov. 4 following a jury trial in Bryan Municipal Court), which according to the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) disqualifies anyone from seeking the sheriff’s position. The charge alleged that Towns improperly released information about a case under investigation.
Each of those candidates testified during Monday’s hearing, with Faulk stating that the board of elections shouldn’t have any compunction about keeping Towns off the ballot as the sheriff caused his own difficulties. Indeed, at least two board of elections members expressed some trepidation about removing Towns, but noted that they are required to follow the law.
“He made himself ineligible to be on the ballot,” said Faulk, a former Williams County sheriff’s deputy.
Towns argued that his case should have gone before the state ethics board before any criminal charges were filed.
And he contended that removing him from the ballot would deny voters the opportunity to re-elect him if his misdemeanor case’s appeal — pending before the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo — is later decided in his favor.
But Towns said he understood the board of elections’ decision, and vowed to support his second-in-command (Lt. Greg Ruskey) as an Independent candidate in the November general election (to run against the Republican primary winner and anyone else).
Towns’ attorney — Hank Schaefer of Toledo — said he would be filing an appeal of the board of elections’ decision with the Ohio Supreme Court or Ohio Secretary of State’s Office through a writ of mandamus. Such an action seeks to correct what the plaintiffs consider a government official’s abuse of discretionary authority.
Towns questioned in an interview following Monday’s hearing why his case never went to the state ethics board.
“I mean that is what it’s for,” he said. “The mechanism is clearly in place. The special prosecutors involved (in his misdemeanor case) knew the mechanism. Why did they disregard the mechanism and go around it to take a charge which they had clearly stated is an M4 (fourth-degree misdemeanor)? In their own documents, their own letters, it’s an M4 ... . Why did it have to be an ORC 102 ethics charge? Because they needed an M1 (first-degree misdemeanor) to get me off the ballot. ... there’s no other reason to do it. The ethics board needed to be involved here, and they were not.”
Before ruling on Towns’ candidacy — which was questioned by Williams County Prosecutor Katherine Zartman — the board of elections also approved several motions dismissing counter protests made by Towns concerning the other candidates.
For example, he contested that Zartman’s office staff “violated election law by allowing her staff to collect signatures for Tim Livengood while working, and in the East Annex Building, owned by Williams County.”
But the board ruled that the board’s purview is not to decide how signatures are collected.