2011: The year in reviewPublished 12:00am Sunday, January 1, 2012
It was a year when the laws of man and the laws of nature took charge of daily events. It was the year several prominent Democrats came under the scrutiny of state officials. It was the year a settlement was reached in a long-running dispute between Ironton officials and a fired former police officer. These are the top stories for 2011 picked by The Tribune staff.
1. Coming in at the top of the list is the call by the newly elected Republican Ohio Secretary of State for an investigation of a group of Democrats to see if voter fraud was committed in the 2010 general election.
At issue are applications for absentee ballots that were sent to two post office boxes, apparently without the knowledge or consent of the voters allegedly requesting the ballots.
In July Secretary of State Jon Husted said, “There was an attempt to violate the election law with the attempt to cast and count fraudulent votes. If we didn’t believe there were irregularities that amounted to a violation of the law we would not have referred it to the attorney general and county prosecutor.”
Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr., stepped aside from the investigation citing a conflict of interest. Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said the investigation is on-going after sending representatives down to the county multiple times to conduct interviews.
2. It was a rarity: Lawrence has had no cases returned by the Ohio Supreme Court for retrial in nearly 20 years.
And so when it happened in late 2010 that convicted murderer Megan Goff was granted a new trial, history was made.
Goff was convicted in 2007 of shooting and killing her estranged husband, Bill Goff, the year before. She appealed her conviction to the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals, which rejected her request for a new trial.
But when her case was considered by the Ohio Supreme Court, the state’s highest judicial body determined some of the testimony of expert witness for the state, Dr. Philip Resnick, should not have been allowed. In its lead opinion written by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, the court ruled that a defendant may be compelled to undergo a psychiatric exam without that violating her right against self-incrimination.
“However the examination and any subsequent trial testimony by the state’s expert based on the compelled examination of the defendant must be limited to information related to battered-woman syndrome and whether the defendant’s actions were affected by the syndrome,” Pfeifer wrote.
With new defense lawyers, a new judge and another member of the prosecutor’s staff in place, Goff chose this time to have her case heard by a jury (in the first trial she waived that right and had her case heard only by a judge).
She was convicted the second time not of aggravated murder with a gun specification, but of murder with a gun specification. Instead of the original prison sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 33 years, Megan’s new prison sentence was life with the possibility of parole after 18 years.
She is appealing her latest conviction.
3. Starting in May torrential rains began wiping out the bridges and roads in the county. At first County Engineer Doug Cade estimated that permanent repairs to roads and bridges were going to reach $5.7 million.
Add another round of wet weather in June that figure went up almost three times. Federal Emergency Management Agency funds are expected to pick up about 75 percent of the costs with state funds and the county engineer’s budget of Motor Vehicle Gas Tax to cover the rest.
Originally the damage was listed at 102 landslides, 119 bridges washed out and 249 bridges with debris underneath that could cause damage later on.
Those were consolidated into 187 projects with 86 per cent of those set to be done with county crews.
The rest will be contracted out.
4. They say you can’t fight City Hall but former police officer Beth Rist tried. In November, an out of court settlement in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati ended and three year battle between Rist, who is now an Ironton City Councilwoman, and Mayor Rich Blankenship and Police Chief Jim Carey.
Rist was fired by the city in 2008 after writing a bogus traffic ticket. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the case and sought to get her job back. City officials refused.
In a union grievance against the city, an arbitrator sided with Rist and ordered that she should be returned to her job as an officer. But the city challenged that ruling in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and won the right to keep Rist off the job.
While Rist appealed the city’s court case and lost, she also filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Blankenship and Carey in 2010, contending she was unlawfully terminated because of her gender and in retaliation for her documented opposition to what she alleges was discriminatory treatment.
“They backed me into a corner where I had no choice,” Rist wrote in an email to The Tribune. “I have lost everything I have ever worked for, including the persistent slander and defamation on the Internet and news of my name and reputation.”
There was no word on the specific terms of the settlement.
5. Fight to overturn Senate Bill 5
Back in March Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill that would limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 Ohio public employees. It would have stopped unions from negotiating wages, instituting automatic raises and calling strikes. The law would have affected teachers, nurses, police, firefighters, corrections officers and other government workers.
However, those employees energized by their outrage with the law kicked in a massive statewide petition campaign with the goal of putting the issue on the ballot for repeal. Just under a quarter-million names were needed. The campaign brought in close to 1.3 million names.
With the issue on the ballot, voters statewide shot it down and preserved the rights of the more than quarter-million public employees. Locally the measure was overwhelmingly defeated by a 3 to 1 margin, higher than the statewide 2 to 1 margin that killed the issue.
6 . Senior citizens levy defeated
Those who provide senior citizen services in the county looked to that demographic and those younger for help to pay for what they do. That’s why a one-mill levy was proposed that would have brought in $800,000 a year for five years. With that money service providers said they could keep current senior programs at full capacity and have the ability to add more clients.
That money would have gone toward funding the CAO’s Meals on Wheels program, the county’s two senior centers and its medical transportation program. The funds were sought because of the threat that state and federal dollars would be scaled back.
However, when the issue got to the polls, voters said “No.” Barely. The measure was defeated by only 95 votes. That was the second time for the senior levy to meet defeat. Four years ago, it lost by 79 votes. Supporters are not sure if they will float the levy for a third time.
7. John Carey leaves statehouse
One of the most recognized political names in southeastern Ohio decided that he was changing jobs from the public to private sector. In early December Rep. John Carey, the Republican representative for the 87th District, said he was going to work for Shawnee State University in Portsmouth. There he will be an assistant to the president for government relations and strategic initiative.
Almost as soon as Carey made his announcement, four from the district filed for the seat. On the Republican side are Lawrence Economic Development Corp Director Bill Dingus; Gallia County stockbroker Ryan Smith; and Jackson County Commissioner Jim Riepenhoff. For the Democrats it’s a 20-year-old college student and Wellston City Councilman named Luke Scott.
8. Proctorville mayor dies
His given name was Charles, but Mayor Stapleton liked to be called “Sam.” He was only in his first term, when Stapleton died in July following a long battle with cancer. The flags in the village were flown at half-mast in his honor.
Much of the tribute was because of the generosity the Proctorville native was known for. Each Christmas he would buy toys for the children in the village he knew wouldn’t have any or pay for a monthly senior citizens dinner out of his own pocket.
“He loved Proctorville,” Councilman Dale Burcham said. “He loved the people. He always wanted to be mayor.”
9. Ray ‘Moose’ Dutey retires
The man Lawrence County calls Mr. Republican retired this year from his post as county auditor after 24 years in that office. Ray Dutey, 81, has been in county politics since 1957 and head of the local GOP organization for the past 20 years.
He went into politics in 1957 as a Coal Grove Village councilman and later ran for a Republican central committeeman slot. From there he became mayor of Coal Grove, then county recorder before taking on the auditor’s office. On top of that resume of public service there is the regard Dutey is held in both in and out of his party.
“He has a young mind,” said Jason Stephens, who succeeded Dutey this March. “He was always willing to incorporate younger people in the office and in political campaigns. New ideas he was willing to take on. And he was a legend outside of politics. The press box at Coal Grove was named after him. He lives on a street named for him. It is quite a legacy.”
No. 10 FOI fee and South Point zoning
Lots of people were fighting city hall or village hall this year. In July, Ironton City Council provoked the wrath of some businesses with its vendor ordinance, approved at the request of Friends of Ironton.
The ordinance states that during special events that are authorized by the mayor, the hosting organization of the event will set the fees for vendors and that vendor fees are to be paid by the vendor to the hosting organization.
The idea came about when Friends of Ironton asked the city for protection from vendors sell outside the parameters of events like Rally on the River without paying the organization a vendor fee.
“It was a progressive move on their part and something they’ve needed to do for years,” FOI member Dave Smith said.
But some business owners cried foul. Frog Town owner Mark Rutledge was one of those who were vocally opposed to the vendors’ fee.
“Well the $1,500 is I think ridiculous,” he said. “You go to any rally anywhere in the United States – Rick has been to a hundred of them like I have – they got vendors on every bar you go to. They got vendors sitting around. For me to pay property tax and everything and all, the water bill and everything I pay and employee tax and all that, then I have to pay a $1,500 vendor fee? I just think it’s unreal,” Rutledge said.
In the end, the fee passed.
In South Point, business owner Joe Freeman found himself at the center of storm of controversy over his plans to renovate the former South Point Elementary School into a residential and commercial center.
The fight has included a pending overhaul of the village’s zoning ordinance, led by residents opposed to Freeman’s plans, two petition drives, more than a few raucous public meetings and has left a church at risk of being evicted.
Those opposed to Freeman’s plans to convert the school into professional offices and elder condominiums, say they are worried it will undermine property values, increase traffic and erode the serenity of their neighborhood.
“I’m hoping reasonable minds will prevail,” Freeman has said in the past. “I’m hopeful I’ll be able to work with the council and the neighbors to reach a compromise so that I can use my building and increase property values.”