An angry exchange broke out Tuesday morning among members of the Hamilton County Board of Elections over accusations of a election law violation by Anderson Township Trustee Andrew Pappas.
The central question that split the board down partisan lines – two Republicans, two Democrats – was whether the Republican township trustee told the truth about how he gathered signatures to repeal a sales tax hike. The sales tax hike was later withdrawn by the county commissioners.
The four board members voted 2-2 to refer the case to the county prosecutor for a possible criminal investigation. Board member Alex Triantafilou says he was as angry as he has ever been in his 10 years on the board.
The tie-breaking vote will be cast by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
"I think it's outrageous what's happening,'' Triantafilou said, with Pappas and his lawyer, Stuart Dornette, sitting in the front row and surrounded by a crowd of mostly Anderson Township Democrats.
"I think it's time to end this thing,'' Triantafilou said. "We should have ended it a long time ago. The pound of flesh has been gotten.
"But to send this up to the secretary (of state) and have an argument that ends up in the news that two of you think that (Pappas) ought to be criminally prosecuted based on it – it's a low point,'' Triantafilou said.
Both the Democrats on the board, chairman Tim Burke and Caleb Faux, told Triantafilou and other fellow GOP board member, Chip Gerhardt, that they have no expectations that a criminal prosecution would come of an investigation by the county prosecutor. Violations of election law are fifth degree felonies under Ohio law.
"I did not say this warrants a criminal prosecution,'' Faux said. "I said that it warranted further investigation and that's all."
Burke told Triantafilou, "I do think it's better to allow this matter to go to the prosecutor. They have more professional investigators than we do here who are capable of investigating this situation."
Pappas wrote a letter to the board apologizing for mistakenly turning in a petition page where he did not witness the signatures, as required by law.
Monday, Pappas told the board in sworn testimony that he believed that would take care of the matter because it had in a previous case involving Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
Three years ago, a complaint was filed against Cranley because he was inside a Walnut Hills polling place shouting at voters to should vote for a park levy he was backing.
Campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place is against the law.
Cranley, a Democrat, wrote a letter of apology, and all four election board members accepted the apology and took no further action.
"Three years ago, we let John Cranley off the hook – we Republicans agreed – because he wrote a letter of apology,'' Triantafilou said. The Democrats, Triantafilou said, were applying a double standard with Pappas.
A number of Anderson Township residents – most of them political opponents of Pappas – spoke at Monday's nearly two-hour meeting.
Anderson Township resident Katherine Nappi, one of the residents who filed the original complaint, read letters from two people who said they signed Pappas' petitions when he wasn't present.
Burke suggested subpoenaing those voters, but that idea went nowhere.