A Lakemore candidate who was disqualified because the Summit County Board of Elections thought he had a felony conviction was permitted access to the ballot Tuesday night.
During a special meeting, the board unanimously voted to put Tracy Douglas on the ballot.
The board opted against the same action Friday after being told by the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office that Douglas had pleaded guilty to a felony charge of theft of public funds. He had pleaded to a misdemeanor charge.
“I think I was vindicated,” said Douglas, who attended the meeting. “This is how the process was supposed to work.”
The board had until midnight Tuesday to certify candidates for the May primary.
Douglas is concerned that publicity about his supposed felony conviction might have harmed his candidacy significantly.
“I think it was purposefully initiated to damage my candidacy,” said Douglas, who is a Democratic precinct committee member. “Why? I don’t have a clue yet. I’ve got ideas. I’ll find out.”
Douglas was charged in 2005 with several federal offenses, including theft of public funds, for signing and cashing Social Security and U.S. Treasury checks made out to his mother, who died in 1999.
He pleaded guilty in 2008 to one misdemeanor count of theft of public funds. The other charges were dismissed. He was put on probation for two years and ordered to pay restitution of $34,759, according to federal court documents.
A court entry from 2010 showed Douglas hadn’t paid the restitution and said the remaining balance should be pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Financial Litigation Unit.
Douglas has said he thought the federal checks being sent to his mother were meant for him as the trustee of her estate and her sole survivor. He said he tried unsuccessfully to get clarification from the Social Security Administration numerous times before charges were filed. He said he is still working to pay back the money he owes.
The board’s Republican members questioned Tuesday night whether the fact that Douglas hasn’t repaid the money meant that he had violated his plea agreement.
Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, argued this was beyond the board’s scope. He said the only decision the board needed to make was whether he should be let onto the ballot.
“We are not working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said. “It’s not our job to follow through. I think you are stepping into an area you may not want to step in.”
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Mike Todd said the case hasn’t been vacated and is closed. He told the board there was no reason not to allow Douglas onto the ballot.
April Wiesner, a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor’s office, said when Assistant Prosecutor Marvin Evans looked at federal court documents Friday, it wasn’t “immediately apparent that the plea was for a misdemeanor instead of a felony.” She said the amount of restitution was so high that he thought the charge must be a felony.
“It was just a misunderstanding,” Wiesner said.
Douglas, who is retired and owned a landscaping business, is among five candidates competing for four Lakemore council positions. Four are Democrats; one is Republican.
The board voted Tuesday to establish a policy that allows candidates to address the board when a question arises on their petitions. The Republican members of the board suggested that Douglas be brought in during the board’s meeting on Friday, but the Democrats resisted, saying they didn’t want a “circus.”
“We need to have one set of rules for everybody,” said Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.