When I first read of the Shelby County Board of Elections’ decision to remove Mayor D. Michael Barhorst’s name from the November ballot, my first thought was, “Upon whose feet did Mike trample?” That question immediately came to mind because, while living in Indiana for more than a dozen years, I served as vice chairman of my county’s board of elections — and was afforded an education into how local politics really “work.”
In my experienced opinion, the Shelby County Board of Elections’ recent pattern of poor decision-making in this case — and others — makes its members wholly unfit to hold office. It is either time for them to resign with dignity or be removed.
The Barhorst issue could have easily — and unarguably less expensively — been resolved when Mayor Barhorst and his attorney first met with the board. Rather than listen to Bryan Niemeyer when he laid out both state statutes and legal precedents in respect to Mayor Barhorst’s situation, it is my understanding Board Chairman Chris Gibbs said the board did not have an appeal process and their decision was final. Period. End of story. Cue the theme music from “The Godfather.”
As someone with three decades experience in local, state and national politics throughout the country, quite frankly, I’m not sure what Gibbs and his minions were thinking. Perhaps they thought Mayor Barhorst would just roll over and play dead. They were sadly mistaken. More likely, I believe, the board was led by its collective over-inflated ego.
Stubborn to the end, the board members were not willing to listen to Shelby County Common Pleas Court Judge James Stevenson when he attempted to tell them they were wrong. Instead, they slapped the judge in the face by appealing his learned and reasonable decision. The Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Judge Stevenson’s decision — a decision that clearly stated the board had “abused their discretion” when members removed Mayor Barhorst’s name from the ballot. (Keep in mind two of the board’s members are former Sidney City Councilmen — often at odds with the mayor — and it seems to me that Gibbs and company are operating their own, private kingdom on Court Street.)
While always trying to look toward the humorous side of things, I came up with the joke, “How many judges does it take to convince Chris Gibbs and his lackeys they are wrong?” The answer (and punchline) is, “No one knows for sure, but definitely four or more.”
On a more serious and not-laughable note, the board tied up the Shelby County Prosecutor’s time pursuing legal action against Mayor Barhorst — when the prosecutor’s time and taxpayer money could have been better spent pursuing criminals. In all honesty, the taxpayers would have been ahead of the game had the board of elections not ordered the prosecutor to pursue a losing cause and simply taken the afternoon off and gone fishing. This seems to be a prevalent theme in recent years with this board of elections.
In light of the Barhorst case, as well as other debacles in recent years (the lost ballot issue, the former sheriff’s lawsuit, as examples) I have spoken to a number of local people who believe it is time for our board of elections to “retire” or be removed by Secretary of State John Husted.
I encourage local citizens to contact Secretary of State Husted at 614-466-2655 and voice their opinions about what has evolved into an inept board of elections that wastes our local tax money.
R. Michael Johnson grew up in Sidney and attended Findlay College, majoring in economics and communications. A newsman, author, EMT and executive manager, Johnson spent more than three decades in the news and publishing business throughout the United States before returning home a couple of years ago to be near his aging mother. He is the son of Shirley and the late Dick Johnson. He and wife, Beth, live in his childhood home on West Bennett Street. To learn more about him, go to www.RMJohnsonNet.com