By Jody Miller
BATH TWP.: When the candidacies of those filing for the Nov. 5 General Election were certified by the Summit County Board of Elections earlier this month, two members of the Revere Board of Education -- both of whom had filed to run in this election -- found their re-election plans derailed.
Claudia Hower and George Seifert are nearing the end of their first full, four-year terms on the five-member board for Revere Local Schools. Both decided to run for re-election and subsequently took out petitions from the Summit County Board of Elections. Each circulated their petitions, gathering more than the 25 valid signatures required to run for election to the Revere school board. In Hower's case, she completed three petitions with a total of 44 signatures; Seifert turned in two petitions with 36 signatures.
On Aug. 19, both learned that one of their respective petitions was invalid and so neither had the number of required signatures to be on the ballot. In Hower's case, her error had been printing -- not signing -- her name on one of her petitions. Seifert's error, while just as innocuous, was also just as fatal to his re-election campaign. He failed to sign the candidate declaration part of one petition, invalidating that petition and his candidacy because, like Hower, the required number of valid signatures for a school board candidate had not been met.
This meant that the only two candidates who had filed to run for the two seats open on the Revere Board of Education in November's election were disqualified for that election.
Hower and Seifert did what they could to have their candidacies reinstated for the November ballot. Seifert went to the board of elections office Aug. 23, after getting out of the hospital for a health issue. He talked with Joseph Masich, the director.
"He was very helpful, but basically, he said that I would lose the appeal because it was a critical error," Seifert explained. "He told me the petition could not be reinstated."
Hower filed an appeal and appeared before the board of elections Aug. 27.
"My appeal was mainly based on the fact that I completed the petitions with the intent to authenticate, not falsify or commit fraud," said Hower. "Dana Appel [a fellow member of the Revere Board of Education] testified on my behalf that she witnessed me as the circulator for five of the signatures, which would have pushed me over the 25 mark."
During her appeal, Hower said she listed her accomplishments, including her work as a four-year board member for Revere and as a member of the board at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center for the past two years.
"I must have impressed the elections board with my presentation, as one of the board members urged Dana to appoint me back on the school board," Hower added.
That board member was Tim Gorbach, chair of the Summit County Board of Elections, who said this was a frustrating situation, but the board had no choice but to follow the law.
"There are some instances where it is not always black and white," said Gorbach. "In this case, they had the numbers, everything else was filled out correctly. There was no reason to think that there was any deceit or fraud. These were minor mistakes but on a place on those petitions that was major."
Regardless of the innocuous nature of the errors, the board of elections members had no choice.
"I was trying to find some way to follow the law and make this OK, but there was not an out," Gorbach said.
Factor in the timing of the candidate certification with the appeals process that Hower and Seifert attempted, then add in the late August deadline for write-in candidates (not that Hower nor Seifert could have qualified given a 2010 state law) and the Revere Board of Education has two seats scheduled for election this November, and no candidates on the ballot for those seats.
New hope to serve
Once the appeals process was exhausted, it was a phone conversation Seifert had had with a woman from the Ohio Secretary of State's office that provided a glimmer of hope not only to the two candidates, but also to the rest of the Revere board and the district's administration. Hope in the form of the "hold-over" clause.
Revere's legal counsel, Sean Koran, of McGown & Markling Co., outlined the legalities of the current situation in an email to Dave Forrest, Revere's treasurer and chief financial officer. Koran wrote, "The District is in a situation where two seats on the board are up for election and there are no candidates. The write-in deadline has also passed with no write-in candidates applying. In the situation described above, the two incumbent board members will “hold over” and continue to serve in their respective seats on the board."
Koran's reasoning, which was confirmed for him by the Ohio Secretary of State's Election Division, is based on a section of Ohio Revised Code which states:
"A person holding an office of public trust shall continue until his successor is elected or appointed and qualified, unless otherwise provided in the constitution or laws of this state."
Koran also explained that should the hold-over provision be challenged, the remaining school board members could "simply appoint the two incumbent board members to fill the alleged vacancies."
What is less clear for Koran is how long the "hold-over” board members can serve without running for election. He explained to the Revere administration that there could be the option of a full four-year term or the option of running in a special election during the next regular board of education election in two years. His recommendation is that “we seek an Attorney General’s opinion on the subject, as there is ample time to clarify this issue."
Meanwhile, when voters in the Revere District go to the polls this election and find no candidates listed for the two open seats on the Revere Board of Education, they can be assured, nonetheless, that even without a vote those seats will be filled by virtue of the state's hold-over clause and by two candidates who wanted nothing more than to be re-elected to that board.
"It is important for the community to know that the law relating to the 'hold-over' provision is designed to insure the stability and continuity of decision making for a school district," said Forrest. "Accordingly, the two open seats can be filled by our two incumbents whose terms are expiring this year and therefore the leadership team will remain strong and the district will continue to excel.”
Superintendent Randy Boroff echoed those sentiments.
“We are pleased to have two experienced Revere Board of Education members continue to serve the school district and not be disqualified because of a technicality.”
For both Seifert and Hower, this was not the way either planned to start their re-election campaigns.
"At first, I felt pretty disappointed that I might not be able to continue on the board," said Seifert, "I sure learned it's important to check and recheck. But I also learned there are a lot of good people willing to help you when you need it.
"We have been very productive as a board, focused on the same goals for providing the best education for the children of the district and keeping an eye on our financial stability as well,” Seifert added. “I am relieved that I can continue to still serve the residents of the Revere School District."
Hower said she was upset at herself for having committed such a simple error that could have had such far-reaching ramifications.
"I felt bad because I felt I had let our community down. Since Chip and I were unopposed, we felt we had the confidence of the community that we were doing a good job," she said. "With the possibility of us being 'held-over,' I can now refocus on my role as a board member and the future of the Revere Schools."