Will there be a contested race for Hillsboro’s Third Ward city council seat or not? That appears to be the political question du jour – “du jour,” of course, being a fancy French term meaning “Of the Day.”

No kidding.

For review, way back in May of this year, we reported that Hillsboro City Council member Wendy Culbreath submitted a letter of resignation effective June 1, according to an email dated May 15.

“This is notice of my formal resignation from city council due to a change in residence, effective June 1, 2019,” Culbreath wrote to city administration and fellow council members. “It has been an honor to serve. I have enjoyed getting to know you all and wish success in all your endeavors.”

Culbreath, a Republican, was elected to represent Hillsboro’s Third Ward on council during the Nov. 7, 2017 election. She served less than half of her elected term.

At that time, according to then-Highland County Elections Administrator Steve Witham, the Republican appointee will be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 5, 2019 election to fill Culbreath’s unexpired term, “barring any disagreement from the Secretary of State’s office.” (See: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Culbreath-resigns-from-Hillsboro-city-council/2/20/50485.)

At the July 8 Hillsboro City Council meeting, council welcomed Patty Day, who was selected to fill Culbreath’s unexpired term. Day was appointed by the Highland County Republican Party.

We reported then – without a word of contradiction to date – as Culbreath was elected Nov. 7, 2017, Day would be placed on the Hillsboro Third Ward precinct’s ballot for the Nov. 5, 2019 election.

On July 22, members of the Highland County Democratic Central Committee voted unanimously to appoint Mark Middleton as the party’s candidate to fulfill the unexpired term for the Third Ward seat on Hillsboro City Council on the Nov. 5 ballot. You may have read about it.

Highland County Democratic Party chairperson and Highland County Board of Elections member Dinah Phillips said: “We’re lucky to have Mark step up to the plate because a lot of people his age and younger aren’t interested in politics at all. We really appreciate Mark being willing to step up.”

Thus, most of us who follow the local politics anticipated a Third Ward race between Day and Middleton that would be decided on Nov. 5, barring any shenanigans or other political minefields.

And this brings us to today’s reported power outage along North High Street that may have included the Highland County Board of Elections.

After a series of phone calls and emails from some well-regarded public officials, speaking on background, here’s the situation as best I can tell.

Patty Day may or may not be opposed by Mark Middleton on Nov. 5 for the Third Ward city council seat.

For those who would probably prefer a single Republican candidate on the ballot for this seat, they seem to be hanging on this section of the Ohio Revised Code 731.43B (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/731.43), which states:

(B) Except as otherwise provided in this division, when the office of a member of the legislative authority of a city becomes vacant either because a member ceases to hold the office before the end of the member's term or because a member-elect fails to take office, the vacancy shall be filled for the remainder of the unexpired term by a person chosen by the residents of that city who are members of the county central committee of the political party by which the last occupant of that office or the member-elect was nominated. If the vacancy occurs in the office of a ward representative in a city where the political party which nominated the last occupant of that office is organized into a city controlling committee with more than one member from the ward where the vacancy exists, the members of the city controlling committee representing that ward shall choose the person to fill the vacancy.

Then again, on the other side of the political spectrum, from the Ohio Revised Code, we see:

731.02 Qualifications of members of legislative authority.

Members of the legislative authority at large shall have resided in their respective cities, and members from wards shall have resided in their respective wards, for AT LEAST ONE YEAR immediately preceding their election. Each member of the legislative authority shall be an elector of the city, shall not hold any other public office, except that of notary public or member of the state militia, and shall not be interested in any contract with the city, and no such member may hold employment with said city. A member who ceases to possess any of such qualifications, or removes from the member's ward, if elected from a ward, or from the city, if elected from the city at large, shall forthwith forfeit the member's office.

Therein lies the rub. For the Republican candidate to run unopposed based on Ohio Revised Code 731.43B, it would seem that the Democratic candidate has potential grounds for objection based on residency in ORC 731.02.

Earlier today, we placed a story online related to ORC 3501.11 – Board of Elections’ duties. It reads:

“Each board of elections shall exercise by a majority vote all powers granted to the board by Title XXXV of the Revised Code, shall perform all the duties imposed by law, and shall do all of the following: (Q) Investigate and determine the residence qualifications of electors. (and) (K) (1) Review, examine, and certify the sufficiency and validity of petitions and nomination papers, and, after certification, return to the secretary of state all petitions and nomination papers that the secretary of state forwarded to the board.

Those are two points related to residency and petitions that may or may not (most likely the latter) become problematic for members of the Highland County Board of Elections.

As these things tend to go, the entire matter will likely be passed on to the Ohio secretary of state’s office, which will likely return a noncommittal reply and dump it back in the laps of the local board and its local counsel – given state Republican politicians’ track record of seeking the path to least resistance.

If a word to the wise is in order, it may be that Mr. Middleton hold off on his campaign advertisements until the matter is resolved. Either that, or “lawyer up,” as the saying goes.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County’s only locally owned and operated newspaper.