More than 20 percent of Belmont County's registered voters have already cast their ballots in the Nov. 6 general election and the votes are still pouring in at the board of elections office in St. Clairsville.
As of Thursday, a total of 10,517 had voted either by personally appearing at the polling place established in the lobby of the board offices or by absentee ballots. That totals to roughly 21 percent of the county's voting population.
"We have 9,458 absentee ballots that have been returned to our office," explained Kelly McCabe, assistant director of the board of elections. More than 13,313 individuals had made application for absentee ballots, which means there are 3,755 still to be returned. All of those figures could show increases since the election is still 10 days away. Voting in person at the polling place in the lobby of the board of elections office continues to be popular. As of Thursday morning, a total 1,059 individuals had shown up to vote.
There was a new twist to the voting in person scenario. "We had an additional 475 people who came in, picked up their ballot and took it home to fill out," McCabe pointed out. Those have yet to be returned. That choice seemed to be getting more popular. With more than a week to go before the election, it seems likely the turnout for absentee and in person voting may surpass the record turnout of over 14,000 for the Nov. 6 general election.
Talks got under way last week to put the Belmont Senior Services organization "on a new direction" and return operation of the program for the elderly "to the way it was before." The talks were aimed at taking the program out of the hands of the Belmont County Department of Jobs and Family Services and bringing it back under contract to the Belmont County commissioners.
Belmont County Commission president Chuck Probst had hoped to delay the announcement of the proposed change until after the Nov. 6 election but two representatives of the senior services centers were present at Wednesday's commission meeting and urged the an immediate announcement of the planned takeover.
Clarence Briggs of the St. Clairsville senior services center and Jim Cook of the Barnesville center were there to pressure for an immediate announcement. After a moment's hesitation, Probst declared changing the operation of the seniors program "is in the discussion phase" and added that a meeting to begin the changeover had been set for Thursday.
"Our members want it back the way it was," Briggs told the commissioners. "Under the old system we knew what was going on. There was more transparency than there is now." Briggs noted that under the old system there were weekly postings on the bulletin board in each of the 10 senior services centers providing members with pertinent data on what was happening within the senior services system. He added the seniors were anticipating a change similar to the "committee on aging" which was the title for the program when headed by the late Robert Laxton.
Probst said the initial discussions will concern the employment of a new director and possibly a fiscal officer who would work in conjunction with a citizens advisory board. He said the change is directly due to "senior citizens asking us to make the change."
There was no criticism by Probst of the job that has been done during the past year by the DJFS under director Duane Pielech. In fact, he pointed out Pielech is content to be relieved of the seniors program because the DJFS "is facing some major cuts" and "Pielech wants to devote his energies to saving those jobs."
At the outset of the Thursday meeting, only Probst, commissioner Ginny Favede and Briggs were present. Of major concern to the board and the senior citizens is the one-mill levy that will be on the ballot at the Nov. 6 general election. It is a renewal levy and therefore will not be an increase in taxes. It produces more than $1 million for operation of the seniors program.
Voters in Belmont County have some tough decisions to make - both locally and nationally - for the Nov. 6 general election and one that may give them some problems is selecting one individual from the list of six prominent attorneys challenging to replace Harry White as judge of Belmont County Western Division Court.
A glance at the race reveals the six involved in the non-partisan race have amassed a total of more than a century and a half of service to Belmont County and its residents. Numerous roadside posters, mailings, personal appearances and hand delivered leaflets to home throughout the county gauge the intense campaign.
Vying for the judicial post are Belmont County Public Defender Office manager Eric Costine, former Belmont County Prosecutor William Thomas, assistant prosecutor Helen Yonak, former assistant prosecutor Kevin Flanagan, Todd Kildow, partner in a well known area law firm; and Charles H. Bean, the newly appointed member of the Ohio Bar Association's Board of Governors.
Costine, a resident of St. Clairsville, is a 27-year member of a family law firm that was started by his father in 1920. He has been with the public defender's office for 20 years during which time he has been "in every court in the county nearly every week" and as a result knows the court system "inside and out. I feel I have exactly what it takes to fill Judge White's shoes."
Thomas, of Martins Ferry, has been practicing law for 36 years during which time he met "all kinds of people and will always do my best to treat them honestly and make certain that justice is served." He feels his 21 years service as the county's prosecuting attorney "will be an asset to serve as judge."
Yonak, of Centerville, has spent 15 years of her 17-year law career as an assistant prosecutor and credits the judge she hopes to replace with encouraging her to press on with her career. "I've been following in his (Judge White's) footsteps for years, as an employee in his law firm, as an assistant prosecutor and even as a student who wasn't sure which way she wanted to go in life." During law school Yonak was a law clerk in Judge White's law office.
Flanagan, of Bellaire, served as an assistant prosecutor 1994-2001 and since then has had firsthand knowledge of the role of a county court judge having served in an acting judge capacity in all three of the county courts. Being an acting judge, Flanagan stated, "has given me unparalleled experience which will be invaluable if I am elected."
Although the judicial race is a non-partisan contest, Kildow, of Bethesda, chose to make the initial announcement of his candidacy at a Belmont County Democrat Central Committee meeting. A partner in a law firm with offices on both sides of the Ohio River, Kildow claims that while he has served Belmont County in numerous capacities during his 19 years as an attorney, he maintains "I believe I can do more" as a successor to Judge White.
Bean, of St. Clairsville, believes his service as an special prosecutor on numerous occasions, coupled with cases he has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, have given him the experience that "qualifies me to be a good and fair judge." In addition he has served as solicitor for many years in several Belmont County communities and most recently was accorded the honor of being named to the Board of Governors of the Ohio State Bar Association.
In years amassed to date in their professions, Bean leads the way with 40 from the same office that is virtually located in the shadow of the Belmont County courthouse; Thomas ranks second with 36 years; Costine with 27 years; Kildow, 19 years; Flanagan, 18 years; and Yonak, 17 years.
Although a couple of different oil/gas companies have approached Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry about the possibility of locating an injection well on land within the East Ohio Regional Industrial Park near Barnesville, no such project is planned.
However an injection well was considered. "We were exploring ways to raise money for the authority," Merry noted, "and to provide jobs for Belmont County." In the long run Merry indicated it would also "be a way to get new businesses into the county. But I would say for right now there will be no move in that direction."
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.