State Senator Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) today introduced legislation clarifying the process for filling vacant seats of county officeholders who do not affiliate with a political party.  The bill closes a gap in state law that came to light when a circumstance unfolded in Stark County.  

This legislative action is in response to a vacant Stark County Commissioner seat. In that situation, the County Commissioner was initially elected as a Democrat, but later disaffiliated from the party and eventually won a local mayoral race as an Independent, leaving the County Commissioner seat vacant.  In this specific circumstance, state law is unclear on who has the appointing authority.  

Oelslager explains, “Following the opinion recently released by Attorney General Mike DeWine, this legislation clarifies that the appointment process is dictated by the party affiliation at the time the county officeholder vacates the seat. If the vacating officeholder is unaffiliated – this language directs the County Commissioners to make the appointment. If it is a County Commissioner, the remaining commissioners and the County Prosecuting Attorney, or a majority of them, will make the appointment.  This actually mirrors current law O.R.C. 305.02 (D), as to who appoints and this bill simply clarifies when there is a disaffiliated vacancy.”
This legislation clarifies that the appointment process is dictated by the party affiliation or lack of party affiliation at the time the county officeholder vacates the seat. If a county officeholder vacates as a Democrat, the Democrats make the appointment, the same situation if the county officeholder vacates as a Republican, the Republicans get to make the appointment – this is the current practice and this bill will maintain that by adding clarity to the code. This legislation will also make clear that if a County Commissioner vacates as an Independent or vacates as disaffiliated with either party that the appointment will be made by both the remaining County Commissioners and the County Prosecuting Attorney or a majority of them.

“The current statute is ambiguous and conflicting,” Oelslager said. “It is my hope that this small step adds clarity and can assist with ensuring a fair resolution in a timely fashion if one of these unusual situations should ever arise in the future.  We do this by simply adding the words to 305.02(B) and 305.02(D) is not affiliated with a political party at the time the vacancy occurs.” 

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