An Ohio senator, following the amicable lead of his Republican colleagues in Stark County, introduced a bill Wednesday that would clear up who fills partisan seats vacated by elected officials who claim no party status.



Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, introduced the legislation after former Stark County Commissioner Tom Bernabei, who dropped the “D” next to his name while in office, stepped down this month after winning the Canton mayor’s race in the fall as an independent.



Bernabei’s disaffiliation with the Democratic Party created a unique situation: Ohio law does not specifically detail which party gets to fill county seats vacated by independents.



“That’s been in the legislature since 1985,” Oelslager said. “This is the first time that I’ve seen it. So this is a very unique situation that we’re trying to clarify.”



Oelslager’s correction bill requires county commissioners to fill county positions vacated by non-affiliated or independent officials. Should a county commissioner lack party affiliation when exiting office (before his or her regular term expires), the county prosecutor would join the remaining commissioners to fill the vacancy.



That’s what happened in Stark County when the remaining county commissioners —Republicans Janet Weir Creighton and Richard Regula — picked David Bridenstine, a 66-year-old Democrat and retired assistant county prosecutor, to fill the hole left by Canton’s new independent mayor.