County elections board puts senator on hot seat

7:00 PM, Sep 29, 2011   |    comments
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CLEVELAND - In an unprecedented move prompted by a Channel 3 News investigation, the county elections board today voted to ask state Sen. Shirley Smith to appear and testify as to whether she lives outside of her legislative district.

"Implications are that there's something wrong here," said Republican Jeff Hastings, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

"Well, I'll ask Senator Smith to come down here and address it. Channel 3 did it. They put it on her plate. I think Senator Smith should be given the opportunity."

Related: Investigator: Is veteran legislator violating the law?

The bi-partisan board, which voted 4-0 to interview Smith, stopped short of ordering a full investigation, saying they would await testimony by Smith before deciding whether a formal probe was warranted.

She will be asked to appear at the board's next meeting on Nov. 7.

The Investigator Tom Meyer reported on Monday that hidden cameras caught the two-term Democratic senator living in a newer home in South Euclid - located outside District 21, the district she represents, and about 4 miles from the Cleveland home where she's registered to vote.

Ohio law requires state legislators to live in their district.

Smith told Meyer that she lives in the South Euclid home as well as in her Cleveland home.

The vote comes as Channel 3 News uncovered what appears to be even more evidence that Smith lives full-time in South Euclid. 

In a lawsuit Smith filed over a contract dispute with the home's developer, Smith noted about $9,000 worth of property damage caused by a faulty sump pump at the South Euclid home.

Among the items she said was damaged: a family heirloom movie projector estimated to cost about $2,000; and 23 pairs of shoes valued at more than $1,800.

Smith also noted in the lawsuit that she initially wanted to back out of the purchase in 2009 when financing fell through, but the developer threatened to sue her for breach of contract.

Smith ultimately went ahead with the sale because "a lawsuit could negatively impact her career and employment if this matter was made public because campaign season was approaching," according to the complaint filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Smith, who won re-election in 2010 for a second term after using her Cleveland address on petitions, dropped the lawsuit last month.

"I do have some concerns about the whole situation," said Republican Board Member Deborah Sutherland. "Being an elected official as mayor of Bay Village, it's like if I bought a home in Westlake and actually lived there but maintained my role in Bay Village."

Democratic Elections Board Member Inajo Davis Chappell said she was concerned about setting a precedent where the board looks into claims brought up in news accounts without having a formal complaint against a voter.

The board's attorney, however, said state law does not require that the board receive a formal complaint before opening an inquiry.


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