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Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 12:17 PM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 1:14 PM
— State Rep. Niraj Antani wants to haul Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill before a joint session of the General Assembly to answer charges that he’s violating the judicial code of conduct.
Antani, a Miamisburg Republican, said that conduct rules prohibit a sitting judge from running for a partisan, non-judicial office. The resolution he filed Thursday begins the process of removing O’Neill from his seat on Ohio’s high court.
O’Neill, a Democrat, announced earlier that he is running for governor in 2018 and that he would recuse himself from considering future cases, but not step down.
On Thursday, in response to Antani’s action, O’Neill issued a statement reiterating his plan to step down once he has officially filed his petitions declaring his candidacy by the Feb. 7 deadline.
“I have clearly not violated any rules,” O’Neill said. “I have notified the court of a comprehensive and constitutionally permissible plan for my departure from the court when I become a candidate for governor.”
Campaign spokesman Christopher Clevenger said O’Neill has not asked for an opinion from either the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct or the Court of Appeals Judges Association, which has the power to hear and act on any complaints about a justice or supreme court candidate violating the Ohio Judicial Code of Conduct.
The code states that “upon becoming a candidate in a primary or general election for a nonjudicial elective office, a judge shall resign from judicial office.”
O’Neill contends he will not officially become a candidate until he files petitions declaring his candidacy, which must have the signatures of 1,000 valid registered voters.
Clevenger did not know if a complaint has been filed against O’Neill with the appeals court judges association but said O’Neill has not yet been summoned by the House Sergeant-at-Arms to appear before the House, as called for in Antani’s resolution.
Antani’s action threatens the independence of the judiciary, which has a process for removing a justice from the court, said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
“This feels like what Donald Trump would do,” Pepper said. “In a normal democracy when you have a separation of powers, you aren’t used to people taking this step.”
Antani said the constitution allows for the legislature to remove a sitting justice.
“I’m a big believer in checks and balances. I’m a big believer that the judiciary must be fair and independent,” Antani said. “Not only has he declared as a candidate for governor but he’s released what he calls the ‘O’Neill Plan for Ohio.’ He has taken positions on 15 or so different partisan issues.”
O’Neill said his “announcement included a meaningful plan to address the opioid epidemic sweeping the state of Ohio, something the Ohio Legislature has failed to do. I can understand why some members of the Ohio General Assembly do not want me to be governor.”
Under the state constitution, a complaint must be filed with the clerks of the House and Senate and then a summoning resolution must be introduced — two steps Antani said he took Thursday.
RELATED: Who is running for governor in Ohio?
“If that summoning resolution is passed, Justice O’Neill will be summoned to a joint session of the House and Senate where he will be asked to answer himself of whether he violated the judicial code of conduct or not. If the General Assembly finds that he has, I will introduce another resolution that is removing him. If we pass that resolution, then he will be removed,” Antani said.
Antani said he was unaware that there is a judicial process for removing Supreme Court justices. Even so, Antani said the legislature has the constitutional ability to do it as well.
Any citizen can file a complaint with the appeals judges association alleging a violation of the judicial code. The judges would appoint a hearing panel made up of trial judges to hear evidence and determine if a violation occurred. That finding can be appealed to a panel of 12 appellate judges.
Punishment can include a reprimand, suspension of the person’s law license or disbarment. Suspension or disbarment would, by definition, lead to suspension or removal of the judge from the court because a law license is required for the job.
The process is rarely used, and the last time it was involved O’Neill during his 2012 run for the Supreme Court. The five-judge hearing panel ruled against O’Neill - then a retired appellate judge - and ordered him to cease calling himself “judge” on campaign literature. That ruling was overturned on appeal.
“While I don’t appreciate GOP legislators using state time to score political points, I’m frustrated that Justice O’Neill did not think through these potential consequences before entering the race,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who is also running in the Democratic primary for governor.
The other Democrats are Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.
On the Republican side the announced candidates are Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
Staff writer Will Garbe contributed to this report.
Other stories by Lynn Hulsey
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 12:26 PM
Updated: Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 12:26 PM
— Police officers across the nation may soon have access to advanced screening equipment that can identify drugs even through some packaging.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined police in downtown Dayton on Sunday to talk about new legislation that could help put advanced drug screening devices in the hands of local officers, protecting them from exposure to dangerous substances.
“It can save lives,” Brown said.
The Providing Officers With Electronic Resources (POWER) act, is cosponsored by Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. If passed, the bill would give police departments access to grant funding to purchase the screening devices, which can cost upward of $10,000.
Brown said the legislation was similar to the INTERDICT act, which was signed into law earlier this year. That legislation made more drug screening devices available to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Brown said law enforcement officials reached out to him after INTERDICT was passed to see about getting access to such equipment, which Brown said quickly displays results and could help address a backlog of untested drugs in labs.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said that overdose deaths were down so far in 2018, as was the police usage of Narcan, a drug that can counteract overdoses. As of June 28, 128 overdose deaths were recorded by Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County so far this year. In 2017, the total for the whole year was 566.
Biehl said that while the trends may be down, it doesn’t mean the crisis is over. Exposure to dangerous drugs such as fentanyl is still a risk to police officers, he said, and the screening devices could help police officers.
“Difficult work is yet ahead of us,” Biehl said.
Fentanyl in particular can be dangerous to handle, and causes more deaths. According to police data, 84 percent of the people who died of overdose in Dayton in 2017 used drugs containing fentanyl or carfentanil, both powerful opioids.
Just coming in physical contact with drugs that contain fentanyl can cause on overdose: in 2017, an East Liverpool Ohio police officer suffered an overdose after he came into contact with the substance during a traffic stop.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine previously warned officers against handling or even field testing fentanyl.
Officials have previously misidentified drugs, even after field testing them. In June, DeWine and a local sheriff announced they had seized what they thought was $3.4 million worth of fentanyl.
Published: Thursday, July 12, 2018 @ 12:26 PM
Updated: Friday, July 13, 2018 @ 1:47 PM
— The Republican candidate for Montgomery County commissioner is now leading a referendum effort, that if successful, would place the repeal of a recent county sales tax increase on the same ballot with his name in November.
But Doug Barry’s opponent, Democrat Carolyn Rice, questions why her challenger didn’t register complaints earlier against the sales tax increase — also unopposed by major business groups — when debated in the public sphere before approved last month.
Barry says the additional 0.25 percent sales tax was pushed through without citizen support.
“The county commissioners passed this without getting a vote of the people at a time we are in a good recovery period and there’s a lot of positive things coming out of Dayton and Montgomery County,” Barry said. “We don’t want to see that stopped by an increase in sales tax.”
The original organizers handed over the petition drive to Barry, owner of BarryStaff in Dayton, who faces Rice for an open county commission seat. Rice is currently Montgomery County treasurer.
County Commissioner Dan Foley is not running for re-election and is running for an Ohio House seat.
To put the referendum on the ballot, Barry and volunteer petition circulators have until July 26 to get 14,583 signatures.
“It’s all-hands-on-deck for the next 14 days to get the signatures,” said Barry, also a Miami Twp. trustee.
Rice said Barry and others have every right to put the issue on the ballot, but said overturning the sales tax increase, set to kick in Oct. 1, would harm the county in multiple ways and lead to cuts to multiple programs including those supporting the arts, the criminal justice system and economic development funds including Economic Development/Government Equity grants that assist businesses to expand and bring jobs to the region.
The repeal effort was first led by two former Montgomery County Republican Party chairs, Greg Gantt and Rob Scott, who prepared the necessary paperwork and filed it Tuesday with the county elections board and auditor.
Rice said those working to overturn the sales tax increase remained mute during months of budget discussions, at a public informational meeting and two required public hearings.
“There was a process over a year and it was publicized and I did not see any of these individuals at those meetings,” she said. “And I know a lot of people showed up.”
Barry, who announced his candidacy in January and won a May primary, did attend the second public hearing on June 26 — before commissioners approved the tax increase — but did not provide public comment. Nine others spoke; just one opposed the tax hike.
“As any leader in any situation, the first thing you have to do is assess,” Barry said. “I didn’t see at that point in time it was right for me to get up and talk because I was still assessing what the situation was.”
Barry had “a great opportunity to voice his concerns before a vote was taken,” Rice said.
The additional sales tax — projected to bring in $19.1 million annually — will squeeze Montgomery County businesses and drive consumers outside county lines to shop, Barry said.
“A lot of local businesses … it’s going to hurt them competitively because a lot of these programs they have running right now have been quoted at a certain price,” Barry said. “Now this is going to cost them more to do this because of the sales tax they are going to have to pay.”
Rice said representatives from the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Dayton Development Coalition, the region’s major business and industry advocates, were included in a five-year strategic budget planning process that produced the plan.
“The business groups were involved, they supported it,” Rice said.
During the final public hearing, top leaders of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance and the Dayton Art Institute voiced support for the tax increase as well as from the business community including Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition and a member of the county’s Five-Year Financial Advisory Committee.
Hoagland said the loss of county economic development funding — a near certain outcome without the tax increase — would put the brakes on efforts to help companies expand.
“Now is the time to not step back, but to double-down. We are really on the cusp of something great in the Dayton region,” Hoagland said. “We have to have resources available to allow them to help make decisions to stay and grow in Montgomery County.”
Gantt, an attorney from Oakwood, said large business organizations such as the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Dayton Development Coalition sometimes lose touch with concerns of the region’s smaller businesses.
As this year’s election takes shape, our reporters will bring you the news you need on local tax issues and how they will impact you.
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 @ 4:19 PM
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2018 @ 7:38 AM
MIAMI TWP. — UPDATE @ 9:25 p.m.:
Miami Twp. trustees voted 2-1 Tuesday night to deny changes to move forward a plan for 81 homes near the Dayton Mall.
Largely citing traffic concerns, trustees Doug Barry and Donald Culp rejected a motion to approve a change that would have permitted the Rivendell project to go forward.
The vote — not supported by trustee board President John Morris — came after a two-hour public hearing on the proposal by Zengel Construction and Ryan Homes.
It was the trustees’ third rejection of the housing plan by Zengel and Ryan.
“I think nothing significantly has changed” from previous proposals in addressing traffic concerns, Barry said.
Zengel was seeking a major modification to a preliminary plan adopted in 2007 to about 31 acres just east of Ohio 741 and north of the mall.
A revised plan to build more than 80 homes near the Dayton Mall will be considered by Miami Twp. trustees tonight.
A change that would allow the construction of about 80 homes on 31.7 acres north of mall and just east of Ohio 741 — a plan in May recommended for approval by the township zoning commission — has been requested by Zengel Construction.
Specifically, Zengel is seeking a major modification to the preliminary development plan approved in 2007 for the project, known as Rivendell.
Two previous proposals involving Ryan Homes as the developer have been rejected by Miami Twp. trustees.
The homes would average 1,600 square feet and the development would include more than 6 acres of open space, township records show.
Prior efforts for similar applications were denied by the township in 2017 – one in the spring and another in the fall. The effort denied last September by township trustees had earlier won unanimous support of the zoning commission.
Trustees voted the plan down after residents of the Vienna Park subdivision built by Zengel said they feared the negative effects the development would have on traffic, worsening road conditions and drainage, among other issues.
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 @ 12:48 PM
Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 @ 5:43 PM
— Two former chairmen of the Montgomery County Republican Party are spearheading an effort to overturn a Montgomery County retail sales tax increase approved last month by county commissioners, all Democrats.
Both Greg Gantt and Rob Scott say the tax increase vote by the three commissioners took many in the business community by surprise.
“Most businesses don’t know about it yet … It’s not something the commission put before the voters,” said Scott, a Kettering city councilman. “So what this referendum is doing is giving that option to the voters. If the voters want this sales tax increase, then that’s on the voters.”
Montgomery County Administrator Joe Tuss in February first recommended the increase to county commissioners after a five-year budget review process showed the county would be required to cut a number of programs following the loss of $9 million in Medicaid managed care sales tax from the state.
After a public informational meeting and two required public hearings, Montgomery County commissioners voted 3-0 in June to approve a 0.25 percent sales tax expected to generate $19.1 million annually for the county’s general fund. The sales tax increase will go into effect Oct. 1, before the Nov. 6 general election, the first opportunity to repeal the tax.
Two other county residents’ names, Thomas A. Routsong and Marissa M. Walters, also appeared on the documents filed Tuesday with the Montgomery County Auditor and the Montgomery County Board of Elections, steps required to put a referendum to county voters in November.
A committee being formed to roll back the sales tax increase has less than a month to collect 14,583 valid signatures within a month to get the measure on the ballot.
“The timing of this really puts us in a box,” said Gantt, an attorney who lives in Oakwood. “It’s a very short window to go after the signatures and do something about it.”
The tax increase will put Montgomery County at a disadvantage competing with neighboring counties, across state lines and internationally, said Scott, also a regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Great Lakes Region.
“A sales tax at this point is probably not in the best interest of the business community in Montgomery County,” Scott said. “The moment I tell a business owner that’s going to be affected by it, they’re not too happy.”
Programs that had been on the county chopping block before the sales tax increase was approved included Preschool Promise, arts and youth jobs programs, criminal justice programs that steer people from jail, as well as Economic Development/Government Equity (ED/GE) grants that help attract and expand businesses.
“We’ve looked under every rock. We looked everywhere to try to get us through this,” Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge said during the vote last month.
“My fellow commissioners and I unanimously approved an increase to the sales tax because it is essential for the future success of our citizens and community. The additional revenue will allow us to strategically invest in job creation, workforce training, opportunities for youth, criminal justice, and quality of life, while maintaining our strong tradition of efficient and effective government operations,” Dodge said in a statement on Tuesday.
While an imperfect measure — because people make purchases in other counties and vice versa — the average additional cost to each person in Montgomery County works out to about $36 more a year. After the tax kicks in, the county will receive on average a new total of about $182 in sales taxes annually for every man, woman and child in the county.
Scott said no outside group or money is driving the petition effort that will likely involve 100-200 volunteers going door-to-door between now and Aug. 8.