A Huron, Ohio, woman accused of election falsification will stand trial in Delaware County Common Pleas Court on April 21.
Colleen Mann, 55, entered a not-guilty plea to a charge of election falsification, a fifth-degree felony, Monday afternoon in Judge David Gormley’s court. Mann circulated referendum petitions in Delaware County last year related to a special taxing district in the May 2015 election.
Mann’s retained attorney could not attend the hearing but the arraignment proceeded without the attorney. Mann was 20 minutes late to Monday’s hearing.
Gormley released Mann on a personal recognizance bond and also scheduled a pretrial hearing for April 4.
A Delaware County grand jury returned the one-count indictment against Mann on Dec. 11.
She is accused of allowing Berkshire Township residents Jeremy Rito and Joyce Davis to sign 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 an outlet-store shopping mall.
First assistant county prosecutor Kyle Rohrer said Dec. 11 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.
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 Ohio Supreme Court last 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 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 is administered by the city of Delaware.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.