West Branch levy group files complaint against foes

BELOIT- Allegations of unethical behavior on the part of West Branch officials regarding a failed levy attempt in May have apparently gone unreported, but an unofficial group that campaigned against the levy may have to answer for their actions.

The state elections commission confirmed Wednesday that a complaint filed by Kim Lewis on behalf of the We ARE West Branch levy committee against the group calling itself Vote No is scheduled to be heard on June 26. Filed prior to the election by Lewis, the volunteer chairman of the levy committee, the complaint’s allegations against the opposition group include no designated treasurer and no report of financial records.

A representative of the commission said that no complaint against the district had presently been received.

Deborah Cain, District 8 representative with the state school board, said the board does not handle issues regarding levy committees. A representative from the state ethics committee said she could not confirm nor deny if a complaint had been filed or an investigation was ongoing.

Members of the opposition have indicated that the district and its administration worked with the levy committee to promote the levy at the cost of taxpayers, failing to bill the committee for use of facilities while violating the school board’s policy prohibiting use of facilities to raise funds for political purposes. They also claim the administration provided personal telephone numbers to the levy committee.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart reiterated on Thursday that the district, per legal advice, withheld billing the committee until after election, at which time the district had 40 days to submit one total bill for use of facilities. He said that the administration is currently working with the levy committee to establish an accurate bill.

He also said again that the district did not provide the telephone numbers for the committee’s phone bank, having previously explained that the numbers were obtained through voter records at the boards of elections in Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

As for the complaint filed with the state elections board, Weingart said that Lewis lodged it as the volunteer chairman of the levy committee, which followed a “lengthy procedure to be sanctioned and recognized through the Ohio Secretary of State as an official group.”

Weingart said that Lewis checked to see if the opposition group had followed the same procedures and found that “as individuals, people can speak for or against any issue or candidate. Once more than two people come together and identify themselves as a group or organization, there are certain procedures and filings that they are obliged to complete.”