TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A township board broke the law by removing a member deployed with the Ohio National Guard and replacing him with a trustee who had just lost a re-election bid, the state Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The unanimous ruling said Spencer Township’s trustees violated a law that says a township office can’t be deemed vacant when an official is in active military service.
The township board near Toledo called an emergency meeting on New Year’s Eve to vacate the seat of the deployed trustee, Shawn Valentine, who was serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Board member D. Hilarion Smith was about to lose his own seat after being defeated in December’s election. He and another trustee, Michael Hood, voted during the emergency meeting to appoint himself to Valentine’s seat.
Smith and Hood said they vacated Valentine’s seat because he had been absent from the township for 90 consecutive days.
Smith said Valentine did not tell the board about his deployment or say how long he would be gone, and Hood questioned whether Valentine was in the military. Valentine said he informed both the board and county prosecutor’s office about his deployment.
Messages seeking comment on the court’s decision were left with Smith and Hood on Tuesday.
The county prosecutor took the case against the board to court after Smith refused to resign.
The state Supreme Court’s decision said Valentine was the rightful holder of the seat, and it invalidated board actions taken by Smith since the beginning of the year. It said Smith should no longer be allowed to stay in the office.
Smith submitted a resignation in February, but it came after a court deadline.
The court also said the meeting where Valentine’s seat was vacated violated the state’s Open Meetings Act because not enough public notice was given.