A Delaware County grand jury has indicted a Huron, Ohio, woman for allegedly not following the law when circulating referendum petitions related to a special taxing district for last May’s election.
The grand jury Friday returned a one-count indictment with a charge of election falsification, a fifth-degree felony, against Colleen Mann, 55.
She is accused of allowing Berkshire Township residents Jeremy Rito and Joyce Davis to sign the petitions on behalf of their spouses in order to place a measure on last May’s ballot to give township residents an up or down vote on the creation of a Joint Economic Development District on the site of a planned outlet-store shopping mall.
First assistant county prosecutor Kyle Rohrer said Friday that the law requires anyone circulating a petition to be present and to watch each time the petition is signed. Rohrer said Mann did not watch a number of signatures as they were signed.
The Ohio Revised Code states that potential penalties for fifth-degree felonies include between six and 12 months in prison and a fine not to exceed $2,500.
An arraignment in Delaware County Common Pleas Court has not been scheduled. Common Pleas Judge David Gormley will preside over the case.
A summons to appear in court has been issued for Mann.
Questions over the validity of the signatures and whether Mann knowingly allowed Rito and Davis to sign on behalf of their spouses sparked a legal battle that made its way to the state’s highest court earlier this year.
The Delaware County Board of Elections, which forwarded information to the sheriff’s office that led to an investigation of the petitions, invalidated two part-petitions based on the the allegedly invalid signatures, putting the ballot measure five short of the 130 needed to be placed on the May 5 ballot.
However, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the elections board to recalculate the number of valid signatures, thus placing the issue on the May ballot.
The establishment of the Joint Economic Development District was upheld by an 80 to 20 percent margin by voters in the May election.
Ground was broken on the mall in late June.
The Joint Economic Development District allows Berkshire Township to levy an income tax on the site of the outlet mall. The tax will be administered by the city of Delaware.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on twitter @BattishillDG.