Claremore Daily Progress

May 22, 2013

1-cent tax vote not certified, Commissioners delay action until Tuesday

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

Rogers County voters will have to wait until Tuesday to find out if the 1-cent Sales Tax election May 14 will be voided.
On Wednesday, Rogers County Commissioners met in executive session to discuss their options regarding a challenge that proper legal notice was not published for the election as required by state statute. Commissioners agreed to place the issue on Tuesday’s agenda and will decide whether or not to void the election and hold a new election.
On Tuesday, the Rogers County Election Board voted not to certify results of the election on advice from Assistant District Attorney David Iski.
Commissioner Kirt Thacker said he is planning to vote to void the election after meeting with Paul Johanning, outside legal counsel.
Johanning, his son John Johanning, Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley, Iski and the commissioners met in executive session for approximately 35 minutes to discuss the matter.
It was determined commissioners could not immediately vote to void the election because the agenda for the special meeting did not spell out any action by commissioners, according to Thacker.
Iski wrote the agenda, according to County Clerk Robin Anderson.
No public comments or questions were permitted during the meeting.
The decisions come after Claremore resident Myron Grubowski filed a complaint May 16 with the election board. His complaint contends there may have been voter suppression by the county not properly publishing a legal notice of the election in a county newspaper prior to the vote.
The Election Board chose not to certify the election until after the 10 a.m. May 28 court hearing before District Judge Dwayne Steidley, which may not be necessary if commissioners choose to void the election due to not properly publishing the legal notice.
Commissioners plan to meet and vote on the election prior to the hearing, according to Thacker.
The election remains open to civil legal action until it is voided by the commissioners.
Unofficially, the voters approved the renewal of the tax 1,887 to 1,354.
Rogers County Election Board Chairman Jim Blouch questioned the complaint and asked who was responsible for the legal notice publication.
“The answer to that is really immaterial to what we are here to do today,” Iski said.
“I don’t want any disparaging remarks made about our secretary, Julie Dermody, because she has done everything correctly,” Blouch said.
Election Board Member Linda Lepak also questioned the complaint, referencing Title 26 Section 8- 118 of the Oklahoma State Statute questioning Iski if the complaint is being treated as a petition, therefore requiring the issue to be set for a hearing.
“In the event a candidate contests the correctness of the announced results of an election by alleging either fraud or any other irregularities, the secretary of the election board receiving the petition shall set a hearing in the same manner as provided for recounts. Provisions for service of notice shall be the same as for recounts. The district judge conducting the hearing or such other judge as may be assigned by the Supreme Court shall have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence,” according to the statute.
Grubowski was not a candidate in the election and the Oklahoma State Election Board previously had reported that the complaint was not valid.
“I am not telling you that I consider it anything. I am suggesting that you consider it a valid complaint until the court determines otherwise,” Iski said. “It is the best and safest practice.”
“I have not treated it as a contest, it has been treated a complaint,” Dermody said.
“If it is a contested election we should collect a fee of $250,” Blouch said.
“I don’t know of any statutory authority for the secretary or this board to make a decision on this complaint,” Iski said.
“There are steps according to the digest that I need to make,” Dermody said. “I am trying to make sure if I am doing everything that is right and proper.”
“My advice to you…” Iski said. “ I am going to say this to you again.”
Iski proceeded to advise the board again to wait until after the hearing to certify the election.
“You would be acting outside the law to do otherwise,” Iski said.
“If the court decides this is not a valid election then we have to rehold an election,” Blouch said.