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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 1:00 am

Democrat loses bid to run for Decatur mayor

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

DECATUR – The Adams County Election Board voted 2-1 on Tuesday to disqualify Daniel Rickord as the Democratic nominee for mayor of Decatur.

The board sustained a challenge by the county Republican Party, which contended that Rickord had failed to declare his candidacy in writing before a state-imposed June 30 deadline. The election board's decision means that Republican Mayor Kenneth Meyer will be unopposed in the Nov. 5 municipal election.

“I'm stumped right now. I'm amazed,” Rickord said after the board hearing in the courthouse. “I feel bad for the citizens of Decatur. I believe (the board) should have done what was right for the citizens and let them vote.”

Rickord and Democratic Party Chairwoman Barb Engle argued that an oral declaration of candidacy Rickord made to Engle on June 27 satisfied the state requirement and that they filed necessary paperwork with the county clerk ahead of a July 3 deadline. 

The two Republican members of the election board, Wes Kuntzman and James Voglewede, voted in favor of the GOP's challenge. The Democrat on the board, John Minch, opposed the action. The Republican members earlier defeated a motion by Minch to reject the challenge. 

Engle said after the votes that the Republican Party's challenge to Rickord's candidacy was “a political game” devised to prevent a contested mayoral election.

“You should have done what's right for the citizens of the state and for the citizens of the city of Decatur,” she told Republicans on the board.

“If the shoe would have been on the other foot, I would have made the same decision,” Kuntzman said.

“No, you wouldn't have,” Engle replied as she walked out of the room.

Engle had appointed Rickord to fill a ballot vacancy after nobody sought the Democratic nomination for mayor in the party's May 7 primary election.

Republican Party spokesman Eric Orr said the act of filling a vacancy “means something tangible, material, physical and provable must have taken place.”

He said “there's no adequate evidence that there was an action to fill” the mayoral ballot vacancy by June 30. Forms signed by Rickord and Engle were dated July 2.

Republican Party Chairman Gerald Walker, who filed the challenge, said the election board had to decide whether filling a ballot vacancy is “a conversation and a verbal agreement made by two individuals, or is it a verifiable paper trail.”

Walker told Rickord and Engle, “This is a matter of specifics and reading the code, nothing even political or personal.”

Engle, a former Indiana lawmaker, said that after meeting with Rickord on June 27, “I decided to fill the ballot vacancy with Mr. Rickord, thus fulfilling the requirement of an action as outlined” by Indiana law. The legal provision she cited does not stipulate what constitutes an “action to fill a candidate vacancy.”

“If the state legislature had intended for all paperwork to be filed by June 30 at noon, they would have written that out, not July 3, into the law,” Engle said.

About 20 people packed into the basement hearing room, with some in the audience speaking in support of keeping Rickord's name on the ballot.

“They filed by the filing date. It's semantics,” Steve Kreigh said. “In my opinion, we should let the people decide who's going to be the mayor of Decatur.”

Craig Coshow, a Republican member of Decatur City Council, said the local GOP risks “having a stain on themselves” if they block Rickord's candidacy.

“That would be an embarrassment, in my opinion, to the Republican Party,” Coshow said. “I think that is a black eye if you don't accept (Engle's) word as a past legislator.”

One audience member pointed out that June 30 fell on a Saturday, when the county clerk's office was closed and could not accept candidate declaration or filing forms. 

Other people said the means of filling a ballot vacancy seemed open to interpretation.

“There's not been a case where a court has interpreted this statute,” Orr said.

He indicated before the board's vote that Rickord's case could end up in court.

“This is not where it stops. You know these can be taken further up the pipeline. Everybody needs to understand that, no matter how it comes down the pike,” Orr said.

Rickord said after the hearing that he did not know whether he would sue the election board in an effort to overturn its decision.

bfrancisco@jg.net