Township fiscal officer defends residency status
LANCASTER - The Fairfield County Board of Elections heard no evidence to back claims that Walnut Township Fiscal Officer Emma Pauline Ety does not reside in Walnut Township, and ruled Wednesday that she is a permanent resident.
Township residents Robin Henderson and Marjorie Leitnaker sent a letter and an email, respectively, to the Board of Elections, stating that Ety owns a home on Summerland Beach Road in Walnut Township, but alleged she was actually residing in a home on Lithopolis Road in Carroll, Ohio; state law requires elected officials to reside within the administrative division they serve.
According to Henderson's letter, dated October 2007, Ety "has not resided in Walnut Township for a couple years now." In her letter, Henderson claimed the Summerland Beach Road home was vacant for "a long time" and Ety's family members have since occupied it. Henderson wrote that it is believed Ety is only using the Summerland Beach Road address for election purposes.
"If she does not reside in Walnut Township she should answer for it," said Leitnaker, who was present for a hearing at the Fairfield County Board of Elections office in Lancaster August 28.. Leitnaker said in October 2007 she asked the board about Ety's residency and wondered why it took so long for the hearing to take place. She said she only learned of the hearing when a reporter questioned her about it.
Board member Allan Reid said Leitnaker was sent notice of the meeting by certified mail weeks prior to the hearing. Leitnaker said the reporter called her before she received formal notice.
Leitnaker said she wasn't questioning Ety's ability to do her job, only her residency. "This issue needs to be solved" for future elections, she said. Leitnaker asked if Ety could prove she lives in Walnut Township. However, when board members asked Leitnaker to produce evidence Ety lives elsewhere, Leitnaker replied to the board, "I feel that's your job." She implied her job was to raise the question for the board to investigate.
Jeff Spangler, Ety's attorney, presented the board with a stack of photocopied bills, all regularly mailed to Ety at the Summerland Beach Road address. Spangler said Ety receives a home site credit, which she must be a resident of that address to qualify.
"No one knows the personal life anyone goes through," Ety told board members. She said the last five years were tough for her - her father died and her mother suffered a stroke. "There are a lot of things she can't do. I have to spend a lot of time with my mother," who lives at the Lithopolis Road address. Ety said she would be living with her mother to help her if should could, but she maintains her Summerland Beach Road residency for her job. "It's my private life; I feel it should be my private life," said Ety tearfully.
She said the computer on which she does her work for the township is a desktop model and stays at her Walnut Township home office. "There are times when there may not be a car there," said Ety, adding that she has access to vehicles other than her own and uses them to haul items to her mother's home. Ety said her daughter, Amy Cottrill, stays at the Summerland Beach Road home with her children, one of whom attends Walnut Township Schools.
Walnut Township Trustee Ralph Zollinger, present at the hearing, said he's been a trustee for 20 years. "Pauline and I went in together," he said. "I assure you she is telling the truth." Trustee Alan Dupler, also present, had no comment following the hearing.
Wednesday, the Fairfield County Board of Elections released its unanimous conclusion. According to the statement, "The board received no testimony nor any evidence that (Ety) has been absent from Walnut Township, Fairfield County, Ohio for more than 90 consecutive days at a time or has ceased to reside in Walnut Township, Fairfield County, Ohio.
"The board has considered all of the evidence submitted to it, has taken testimony from various witnesses, and has weighed the same in light of the appropriate statutory authority. It is abundantly clear that the permanent residence of (Ety) is (Summerland Beach Road).
The statement concludes with, "It is therefore the unanimous
decision of the Board of Elections of Fairfield County, Ohio that (Ety) resides in Walnut Township, Fairfield County, Ohio where she is the duly elected and acting (fiscal officer)."