Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Election board not impressed with anonymous complaint

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A complaint lodged to the Indiana Public Access Counselor by a “Publius Valerius Publicola” against Porter County Voter Registration may not hold up because of anonymity, said County Election Board attorney Ethan Lowe.

At the board’s meeting Friday, Lowe said the complaint was made during the last week of June asking why the Voters Registration office has not posted Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa’s campaign finance reports on the County’s website as it has done with other candidates.

However, it is not required by law for county election boards to make reports available online, he said. The board by choice began making reports available this past years on the County’s new website.

Adding to that, Lowe said he found the complaint “difficult to read” and to make out what the anonymous individual was griping about.

Lowe said the public access counselor expects to issue an opinion on the complaint by July 30.

Kozuszek said she did not post Alexa’s report online because he had closed out his campaign.

Lowe said the complaint surfaced days after a written request was submitted to Voters Registration asking about campaign finance reports for Alexa, who ran as a Democrat in 2012.

Lowe said the request was forwarded to him by Voter Registration Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek who initially received the request. Kozuszek said she passed the request on to Lowe because the person who submitted it is affiliated with the Northwest Indiana Political Action Committee whose chairperson she has a restraining order against. That case is in front of Judge Alexa, she said.

Lowe said he was able to get Alexa’s reports to the requester.

Kozuszek said it is the election board which is in charge of candidate reports, not Voters Registration. The reports are however kept secure in the Voters Registration office.

The board, comprised of Chairman and Republican member David Bengs, Democratic member J.J. Stankiewicz and County Clerk Karen Martin, voted to keep its current protocol of having complaints or inquiries about candidate reports addressed to them and their attorney rather than employees of the Voters Registration office.

Lowe said he will evaluate the complaints on a case-by-case basis. Martin said if Voters Registration workers do receive requests or complaints, they need to report them immediately to the board.

Republican Voters Registration Director Sundae Schoon said it is rare for anyone other than candidates or the media to request the finance reports. Those who wish to view the reports in the Voters Registration office must first sign their name.

Sign complaints under advisement

In another matter, the board took up further discussion on a complaint they heard from Porter County Republican Party Executive Director Kenard Taylor in April, asserting a few Democrat candidates were in violation of state law by not having the words “elect” or “for” on their campaign signs, giving the false impression they are the incumbent elected official.

One of the candidates in question, David Reynolds, appeared with his attorney Mitch Peters before the board saying they believe Reynolds’ sign is in compliance with the law since it has “in fine print” at the bottom “Paid by the Committee to Re-Elect David M. Reynolds Sheriff of Porter County.” The sign otherwise has in large letters “Reynolds Sheriff” with a line in the middle separating the two words.

"I suggest the sign does not falsely represent anything,” Peters said, he asserted election year politics are to blame. “I would suggest that what is going on here is someone raising issues where there are none.”

Former office holders like Reynolds, who served as Porter County Sheriff for two previous terms before David Lain, often go by that title even after their time holding that position has expired, and that can be said of Reynolds, according to Peters.

Stankiewicz said he could not find anywhere in the law that required the words “for” or “elect” on signs and felt the board should not move forward on a decision since Taylor was not present Friday to answer questions the board may have.

Bengs, however, said he finds “some merit” in the complaint. “The idea is to make it as clear as possible to what you are seeking.”

Martin said she feels whether there was a violation depends on the intent of the candidate. She recalled a time when members of the Democratic party made complaints about the Republican signs.

“You can’t point the finger and not expect it to be pointed back at you,” Martin said.

Bengs said the meeting Friday was just for further discussion, not to make any formal decisions. That would require a hearing where witnesses would be called, he said.

Under Bengs suggestion, all members voted to place the matter under advisement.

Other Democrat signs Taylor had questioned included Kozuszek’s who is running for County Clerk, Scott Williams who is running for County Recorder, and Alta Neri who is running for Portage Township Assessor.

State law says that in order to declare a candidate in violation, it will need a unanimous vote from the election board. The board may assess a civil penalty fee of up to $500, according to the law.

 

Posted 7/15/2014