One Gahanna mayoral candidate is confident he would meet qualifications for office, if elected, but others disagree based on the city’s charter.
Candidate Ryan P. Jolley said the Franklin County Board of Elections certified his candidacy for mayor in February and that experienced election law attorneys have reviewed Gahanna’s city charter, and he trusts their judgment that there is no issue with his qualification to assume the office of mayor if elected in November.
At issue is the charter’s Section 3.02, which was amended in 2016.
It states: “The Mayor for two (2) years prior to the date of the Mayor's filing the Mayor's declaration of candidacy for election with the Board of Elections and continuing through the Mayor's term of office shall be a continuous qualified elector of this Municipality.”
Candidates for city offices this year had to file candidacy petitions by Feb. 6. If those who disagree with Jolley are correct, Jolley would have to have lived in Gahanna since at least February 2017.
Franklin County Board of Elections voting records show that on May 2, 2017, Jolley cast a provisional ballot from a Blacklick address in Columbus. He filed to run for Gahanna mayor Feb. 6, 2019.
Gahanna city attorney Shane Ewald said the charter amendment, which residents approved, establishes the requirements or qualifications to hold elected office, including that of the mayor. At the November 2016 election, 14,394 voters (82.8%) amended the charter to include the durational residency requirement for the mayor, he said.
“This change required future elected mayors to have lived within the city of Gahanna for at least two years prior to the date they filed their petition to run for the office of mayor and continuing through their entire term of office,” Ewald said. “The requirements or qualifications to hold the office of the mayor under city charter Section 3.02 are absolute and cannot be waived.”
The charter-review commission report given to council in 2016 said the purpose of the two-year requirement was to ensure the mayor has a deeper understanding and level of commitment to the community.
“The intent was to strengthen residency requirements to ensure prospective (candidates) have a skin in the game, i.e. residency,” said George Mrus, who served as the chairman of the 2016 charter-review commission.
The amendment replaced the former 90-day residency requirement.
Jeff Mackey, manager of petitions and campaign finance for the Franklin County Board of Elections, sent a copy of Jolley’s voting record to Ewald on Sept. 18, according to information from the elections board. He then emailed the board’s directors that Gahanna might have a problem with one of its mayoral candidates because of the city charter requirements.
“I’m fairly certain the board’s hands are tied at this point, but should he win election, he would likely not meet the qualifications to serve as Mayor,” Mackey wrote in the email.
Aaron Sellers, elections board spokesman, said someone could have filed a protest or otherwise have brought the issue to the board’s attention.
The board then could have held a hearing, as has been done in the past.
“It would certainly have been within the board’s discretion to declare he did not meet the eligibility requirements to be a candidate,” Sellers said. “However, those options have expired. Protest must have been filed 74 days before the primary election, and the board cannot act on its own volition (sua sponte) to remove him after 60 days before the primary election.”
When a candidate files, he or she is asserting qualification for the office, Sellers said.
“It is incumbent upon the candidate to know if they are qualified,” he said. “We do check to make sure the candidate is registered in the jurisdiction they are running for, that the petition is otherwise valid and that they have submitted a sufficient number of signatures.”
In instances when the board is made aware of special charter requirements, Sellers said, those requirements are added to the requirements document that accompanies the petition when one generates it from the board’s website, and the board enforces those requirements.
Ewald said for a successful mayoral candidate to assume the office, he or she must meet all qualifications outlined in the charter.
If Jolley would win, he said, the next city attorney would be required to take action to enforce the charter that could disqualify him and remove him from office.
Ewald said charter Section 3.07 likely would be followed, and a new mayor would serve until a successor is elected at the next municipal election approximately two years from now.
The charter, under Section 3.07 Vacancy, states, “In the event of death, resignation, recall, or removal of the Mayor, the President of Council, Vice President of Council, or any member of Council designated by the majority vote of Council, in that order, shall become the Mayor, to serve until the certification of results by the Board of Elections of the next regular municipal election or for the balance of the unexpired term, whichever occurs first, and his/her office as Councilperson shall become thereby vacant; provided that if the Mayoral vacancy occurs within 90 days of the next regular municipal election and the Mayoral position is not already on the ballot in that regular municipal election, the new Mayor shall serve until the certification by the Board of Elections of the results of the next following regular municipal election or for the balance of the unexpired term, whichever occurs first.”
The May primary featured Jolley, Laurie Jadwin and Stephen Renner. The top-two vote-getters, Jadwin and Jolley, advanced to the November election. Renner, who is council’s vice president, did not.
Jolley said the charter issue “is nothing more than a smear campaign by my opponent’s supporters, who will say anything to distract from my long record of service to Gahanna residents.”
Jadwin said every candidate who runs for an elected office is personally responsible for ensuring he or she meets the qualifications of the position that is sought.
“The fact that my opponent chose to move out of Gahanna in May 2017 and the resulting impact that his actions have on his ability to meet the qualifications to be mayor that are set forth under our city’s charter are not a focus or talking point in my campaign,” she said. “Our efforts remain concentrated on meeting with Gahanna residents and sharing what I can offer as of day 1 in service to our residents -- proven leadership, accountability and experience.”
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