The Butler County Republican Party has three candidates to choose from when they meet next week to appoint a successor to former auditor Roger Reynolds who has been ousted from office after his felony conviction.
Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix, West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones and newcomer Scott Dalesandro — father of Mike Dalesandro who challenged and lost to Reynolds in November — all want the job. The son is a Democrat but the father is a Republican.
Interim county Auditor Joe Statzer told the Journal-News he doesn’t want the permanent job.
The deadline to submit applications was Thursday and the screening committee will vet the candidates on Monday. The central committee meets Feb. 2 to make the appointment.
“As per statute, The Butler County Republican Party’s Central Committee will collect to listen to the candidates speak, ask any questions and vote a secret ballot choice as to who they believe is the best, most qualified Republican to fulfill the vacancy of Auditor,” GOP Chairman Todd Hall told the Journal-News. ”The candidates have been given proper time to demonstrate their qualifications to the committee, and will have been properly vetted before the vote. I am confident in the process and in our Central Committee to make a wise and prudent choice.”
Reynolds was indicted last February on five counts for bribery and leveraging his public office to further his own interests on charges related to trying to help his family develop land in West Chester Twp. A third felony was added in July for him allegedly asking Lakota Schools officials to use $750,000 of the unspent fees he routinely returns to taxing bodies each year for a golf academy at Four Bridges Golf Course, where his family lives.
The jury found him guilty on the charge related to Lakota but not guilty on the development deal charges. He faces a possible six to 18 month jail term and a $5,000 fine. Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan has scheduled his sentencing for Feb. 15 but Reynolds was forced out of office because he cannot serve as a public official after a felony conviction.
Hall told the Journal-News the screening committee is made up of two Central Committee members from each of the seven districts in the county. He said they will “assess the background and credentials of the candidate and make a recommendation/non recommendation to the full committee for the Thursday night meeting.”
On Thursday he said one vote will be taken after the candidates each speak for five minutes and the screening committee recommendations are read to the group. Members are allowed to ask the candidates questions. Hall said the winner must cull “50% plus one” of the committee members voting, so if 200 people show up the winner needs 101 votes.
Reynolds always maintained his innocence and even ran for re-election and won with 67% of the vote in November against Mike Dalesandro.
Scott Dalesandro acknowledged he is probably “wasting” his time going up against Jones and Nix, but “Butler County has had a reputation of not having integrity and I’m pretty much a genuinely honest person, I don’t get into taking things from people just to give them a favor.”
He said he just moved back to Hamilton after 17 years in Vancouver, Wash. and “I’m a fiscal conservative and I don’t like paying taxes and things, and I’d like to make sure that we’re doing the best things that we can to save the taxpayer money.”
Nix and Jones pulled petitions to challenge Reynolds in the May primary last year, but both backed out. Jones said he quit the race because few people countywide paid attention to Reynolds’ legal issues and it would have required him to spend a lot of cash and be “incredibly vicious” to educate the voters “and that’s just not me.”
He told the Journal-News it is time for the GOP to pick someone outside the inner circle.
“I don’t bear any of the baggage that goes sometimes with county government, I would be a new face,” Jones said. “I’ve got the credentials, I’ve got the reputation, it’s the right time for the right person, that’s me. The Party needs to consider maintaining it’s good reputation and that’s another reason to bring in a new face. Playing musical chairs isn’t going to work.”
The county auditor wears many hats, including serving as the chief financial officer, valuing real estate for tax purposes, overseeing weights and measures and other duties. Jones said he has the credentials to take the post with his experience as West Chester’s fiscal officer and 14 years as a licensed realtor with training in appraisals.
The auditor’s office is a bigger operation with 29 people, Nix said she 15 full-time and one part-time employee. The pay is better too, Nix’s salary for this year according to state law is set at $87,422 versus $110,258 for the auditor.
Nix pulled out of the auditor’s race after circulating petitions before the Feb. 2 filing deadline, which was a week before Reynolds was indicted. At the time she said after much soul searching, it would not be good for two county officials to duke it out in a campaign, “when you are dragging two offices that have been so close for so long, it just didn’t feel right.” At that point no one knew if an indictment might come at all.
Nix told the Journal-News months ago she would seek the seat if Reynolds was convicted, and she hasn’t wavered. Nix said “I wasn’t seeking to leave the treasurer’s office, but it is not at all uncommon for county treasurers to go on to be auditor in the event of an auditor vacancy. It’s a natural transition.”
As the treasurer, she has had a very close working relationship with the auditor and his staff for the nearly all the years she has been in office.
“I bring stability to the financial departments of Butler County, my 16 years of experience as county treasurer working alongside the auditor is invaluable especially at this time, with our tax bills going out early next month,” she said adding she also has experience as a CPA, a banker and former city council member.
Nix took office after the prior treasurer had to step down.
“I am proud of my unblemished career in the private and public financial sectors and will bring the same level of trust to the auditor’s office,” she said.
The GOP Central Committee picked Nix in 2007 to replace Carole Mosketti, who resigned after being convicted of an ethics violation for hiring her granddaughter.
The Central Committee also appointed Reynolds in 2008, because former county auditor Kay Rogers, former Commissioner Mike Fox and others went to federal prison for their part in the Dynus fiber optics scandal. Rogers resigned after pleading guilty to bank and mail fraud, and tax evasion.
After Reynolds was convicted, the county commissioners appointed Statzer as interim auditor. He told the Journal-News he considered making a run for the permanent appointment and “it has been an interesting and rewarding month,” but has decided to return to his role as chief deputy clerk of courts, “a duty which I greatly enjoy.”
“Since the appointment, there has been a great deal of speculation and encouragement from so many inside the Party and others in the county that I seek the permanent appointment. I certainly have the background, education and credentials, and would lead as a true, dedicated conservative,” Statzer said. “However, after careful consideration and discussion with my family, I have chosen not to seek the office of auditor.”
If Nix is chosen the GOP will be pressed into service again to pick her replacement, if Jones wins the West Chester trustees will have that task. Whomever wins must run for re-election in 2024.
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