Open Meeting Bounty Hunter Sues Geauga GOP Central Committee, Chair
June 13, 2022 by John Karlovec

A Portage County resident has filed a lawsuit against the Geauga County Republican Party Central Committee and party Chairman Nancy McArthur alleging they failed to conduct official business in an open meeting. 

A Portage County resident has filed a lawsuit against the Geauga County Republican Party Central Committee and party Chairman Nancy McArthur alleging they failed to conduct official business in an open meeting.

Brian M. Ames, a Randolph Township resident who has been described as an open meeting bounty hunter, filed suit June 9 in Geauga County Common Pleas Court. His four-page complaint, which he filed on his own behalf, was assigned to Judge David Ondrey.

The lawsuit claims members of the central committee — which Ames contends is a public body — conducted statutorily-mandated elections of chairman, vice chairman and treasurer by secret ballot.

These elections “were not conducted in a manner that is accessible to the public,” Ames alleged.

“The Open Meeting Act (OMA) does not permit a county central committee to take official action by secret ballot,” he argued.

Ames has asked Ondrey to declare the elections invalid and to enjoin the central committee members from conducting elections by secret ballot, as well as to impose a $500 statutory fine.

“I attach the complaint that I filed yesterday for your perusal,” Ames wrote in a June 10 email to McArthur. “You should have listened to Jim MacNeal.”

McArthur declined comment on Ames’ lawsuit at this time.

During the June 8 central committee meeting, which was held at the Metzenbaum Center in Chester Township and was open to the public, central committee members sat up front in a taped-off area and the general public in the back to the room.

South Russell Village Councilman and central committee member Mark Porter was named temporary chair to oversee the election of a new party chairman and Bainbridge Township Fiscal Officer and central committee member Janice Sugarman was selected temporary secretary.

After nominations for chairman were closed and candidate speeches made, MacNeal, a central committee member from Troy Township, requested the vote be done by voice.

“I request a roll call vote, please,” MacNeal said.

“That’s not going to happen,” replied Porter. “The chair denies it.”
When pressed for a reason, Porter said the central committee votes by secret ballot.

“That’s the way we’ve done it and it seems to work well,” he told MacNeal.

With 61 central committee members present, McArthur, a former councilman and mayor of the City of Chardon — nominated by Mary O’Toole, of Auburn Township — received 31 votes to remain party chairman, topping her challengers’ combined total by two votes. Former Chardon Township Fiscal Officer and current Geauga County Board of Elections member Joan Windnagel — who previously served as party secretary and was nominated by Barbara Walter, of Russell Township — received 22 votes, and Chester Township Trustee Ken Radtke — nominated by Tezeon Wong, of Newbury Township — received seven votes.

Once re-elected, McArthur ran the rest of the meeting.

Former Treasurer Kevin O’Reilly, of Parkman Township — nominated by Charles “Chip” Manyo, of Newbury — was elected vice chairman, beating Walter — nominated by Windnagel — by 32 votes to 29.

The new treasurer, Mary Zettelmeyer, of Russell — nominated by O’Reilly — beat Joseph DeBoth, of Auburn — nominated by MacNeal — by a 35-26 vote count.

Windnagel declined a nomination made by former Chester Township Trustee and central committee member Mike Petruziello to serve again as party secretary, turning the role over to former IT support staff Erin Brady, of Munson Township — nominated by Karen Swan, of Bainbridge.

Ames was seated in the back to the room, next to former GOP Executive Committee member Mario Innocenzi, a voracious critic of McArthur’s who took to social media to campaign for party chairman. However, early last week he ended his quest and threw his support behind Windnagel. Innocenzi abruptly left the meeting after McArthur’s re-election.

In 2021, Ames sued the Geauga County Republican and Executive Committees, and McArthur after he was denied access to a meeting at which the committees selected a qualified elector to fill the vacancy of a Republican member of the Geauga County Board of Elections. He argued county central and executive committees of a political party are subject to the OMA at all times.

A three-judge panel of the 11th District Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a Geauga County Common Pleas Court’s decision to dismiss to Ames’ lawsuit. The appellate court held political parties are not governmental entities. As such, members of a political party’s county central and executive committees are generally not considered public officials, and, therefore, such committees are not “public bodies” that are subject to the OMA “at all times.”

It cost the county GOP approximately $15,000 to defend Ames’ lawsuit, according to several committee members.

In his June 10 lawsuit, Ames noted he is challenging in federal court the constitutionality of an Ohio law governing controlling committees of each major political party.

Ames has two other cases pending in Geauga County seeking enforcement of the OMA. In January, he sued the Geauga County Investment Advisory Committee on multiple counts of alleged failure to provide notice of a public meeting. The same day, he sued Bainbridge Township Trustees on multiple counts of alleged improper conduct of executive sessions.

Both cases have been assigned to Ondrey.