LEWIS CENTER — Ben Grumbles, who is in the middle of a term as an Orange Township trustee, is being allowed to run for another trustee seat in the Nov. 2 election.
The Ohio Supreme Court has unanimously granted Grumbles a writ of mandamus, ordering the Delaware County Board of Elections to have his name placed on the ballot. Last month, the local board of elections twice ruled that Grumbles was ineligible to run for an office he already holds.
Grumbles, of Lewis Center, won his trustee seat in the 2019 general election for a four year-term that began on Jan. 1, 2020. On Aug. 4, Grumbles filed a valid nominating petition and statement of candidacy in the November election with the board of elections for a four-year term as an Orange Township trustee starting Jan. 1, 2022.
Ohio townships have three trustees, who are elected to staggered terms — two in odd-numbered years, and the third two years later. Grumbles was seeking the third seat in 2019, and is now seeking one of the other two seats. If he were to win in the November election, Grumbles said he would resign or vacate his present seat upon taking office in January. The Orange Township Board of Trustees would then have 30 days to appoint a successor.
On Aug. 16, the Delaware County Board of Elections voted not to certify Grumbles’ name to the ballot. Grumbles asked the board to reconsider its decision, saying it had previously allowed a county commissioner to seek a different commissioner seat mid-way into his term. On Aug. 25, the board of elections voted unanimously to deny reconsideration. On Aug. 27, Grumbles appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, and it rendered a slip opinion (expedited decision) on Monday.
“Grumbles meets the statutory qualifications to run for Orange Township trustee, and there is no statutory provision that prohibits him from being a candidate for a different seat on the same board,” said State ex rel. Grumbles v. Delaware Co. Bd. of Elections. “Accordingly, the board abused its discretion and disregarded applicable legal authority in declining to certify his candidacy for the November general election ballot.”
The court rejected three arguments made by the board of elections. The first two arguments used different means to say that trustees seats are indistinguishable, but the court cited Ohio Revised Code 505.01 as support that the three seats are distinct. The third argument was that if Grumbles were to win, it would create a conflict of interest in appointing his successor.
“The board’s argument is not persuasive, because it is grounded in supposed policy considerations that are not set forth in the statutes governing election of township trustees,” the court said.
While Grumbles did gain the order to be placed on the ballot, the court denied his request for recovery of legal fees “on the basis that the board acted in bad faith in refusing to certify his candidacy.”
The court said, “Though the board’s justifications for keeping Grumbles off the ballot are legally incorrect, we do not find any evidence in the record to show that the board’s reasons were ‘contrived attempts to justify an untenable position.’ (citing a 1990 case) In totality, the record shows that the board struggled with Grumbles’ candidacy because it was unusual and unprecedented, with no statutory or case-law authority that either prohibited or permitted it. Under those circumstances, Grumbles has not established that the board harbored either ill will or a dishonest purpose in rejecting his candidacy.”
The Supreme Court of Ohio consists of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, and justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody J. Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner. For more information, visit www.supremecourt.ohio.gov.
In addition to Grumbles, the candidates for the two Orange Township Trustee seats are former Trustee Lisa Knapp of Powell, newcomer Kristie Ramsey of Lewis Center, and incumbent Ryan Rivers of Lewis Center.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.