By Randa Wagner
February 18, 2014
Marengo Village Council voted Ross Porter out of his council seat at the February 13 council meeting.
Council members voted at the January meeting to hold a hearing at the next meeting to determine whether Porter met the qualifications to be a council member.
Village Solicitor Jay Nixon led the legal proceedings, which included citing segments of the Ohio Revised Code regarding qualifications for the seat, especially focusing on residency requirements. Though the county board of elections was satisfied with Porter’s paperwork to qualify, a village council can hold a council member to their own specifications to qualify. O.R.C. 731.44 states the legislative authority of a municipal corporation, in this case a village, shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its members.
Nixon explained the board of elections’ power is whether or not a person is on the ballot. “The power the council has is whether or not you meet the qualifications to their standards,” Nixon explained to Porter. The qualification in question was whether Porter lived in the village one year prior to the election, a requirement for candidates since 1938 in Ohio.
For more than an hour, Porter and council members debated what constituted a residence and who had the right to make that judgement. Porter maintained that since the year prior to the election, he has been living in the building that formally housed the Highland West Elementary School, which he purchased two years ago. Council members did not hold that opinion, and so went the discussion over what made a residence. Nixon acknowledged that a person could have two residences, splitting their time between them, with 3-4 days a week being adequate for residency. Also, Nixon instructed the council how the property was zoned should not be a factor.
On his behalf, Porter presented documents such as the decision by the board of elections to uphold Porter’s petition of candidacy, utility bills from the address in question, bank statements and other documents.
Council members maintained the building looked vacant more often than not and there was little evidence that anyone lived there, except recently. A council member suggested Porter lived just outside town with a [loved one], which brought a reaction from family members in attendance and Porter.
“I’ve answered your questions!” Porter countered. “I’m doing everything I can for you. I come in here and I’m trying to keep my composure and trying to give you more evidence than I’ve given the board of elections, and I’m still getting resistance. But no one has seen the interior of my building and are making assumptions [of residence] by whether the lights are on or not.” This prompted questions from council about what was actually inside the building that made it a ‘home’.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Porter said he was resting his case and a vote was held, which would have to be unanimous to determine Porter did not live within the village (excluding Porter’s vote). Five council members voted that Porter did not meet the residency requirements to be on council and the meeting was adjourned.
Members of the audience began to quarrel and a bit of a fracas ensued, with pushing and shouting and tempers flaring. Attorney Nixon helped disperse the bunch and council held an executive session after the public left.
The next Marengo Council meeting is March 13 at 7:30 p.m.