At the June 7 West Jefferson Council meeting, Tom Phillips, a former mayor of West Jefferson, made his way through a standing-room-only crowd to submit petitions bearing 167 signatures calling for the recall of Mayor Scott Hockenbery.
According to the village charter, the council clerk has until June 17 to determine if the petition is in proper form. If it is, the clerk must certify the petition to council and deliver a copy to Hockenbery.
If the mayor does not resign within five days of receipt of the petition certificate, council must set a date for a recall election to take place 45 to 90 days after the five-day period expires. Voters would decide whether or not Hockenbery would stay in office.
The petition circulators accuse Hockenbery of the following:
1. Arbitrarily reducing village develop-ment fees of $128,886.94 by granting, without village council authority, relief fees of $51,450.40 to FedEx Corp.;
2. Violating nepotism rules of the charter by:
a. Hiring his first cousin to provide computer maintenance and related ser-vices at village hall.
b. Altering the village transportation plan, changing right-of-way for the proposed extension of Ohio Route 29 from U.S. Route 40 to Ohio Route 142 onto property owned by his wifes grandparents.
3. Contracting with a law firm for $12,000(+) to prepare and write develop-ment grants, exceeding the statutory $10,000 limit.
4. Promoting a negative, threatening atmosphere for village employees and village council through his continued verbal and non-verbal communications, including memos, e-mails and directives.
5. Use of village charge account on questionable purposes for his personal use
6. Using village funds to design, address and mail personalized family Christmas cards, an ethics violation.
Hockenbery did not respond in person to the petition at the June 7 meeting. He walked out of the meeting after a dispute with council president Darlene Steele on another issue. Later in the meeting, West Jefferson Finance Director Jack Herrell read a statement the mayor had prepared.
In the statement, Hockenbery said he had not seen the petition nor had the people circulating the petition contacted him. He called the allegationslies or misrepresentations of the truth and claimed those circulating the petitions disagreed with the direction his administration has taken the village.
Hockenbery also called his opponentscowards who cannot face the truth and called their actionspolitics at its worst.
He stated that he has contacted an attorney and is considering filing suit forlibel, slander and defamation of character. Hockenbery has previously said he does not plan to resign.
Councilman Cory Coburn said he wants the village and, specifically, the law director, to look into the petitioners allegations regarding fee reductions for FedEx. Coburn said he does not remember the issue coming before council.
“It is being personally addressed, Steele assured him.
Many members of council indicated they had not seen the allegations before Phillips presented them with a letter explaining the action. They said they want the mayor to address the allegations.
Hockenbery plans to hold a press conference after the petitions are certified.
Setting a date
According to Tim Ward, director of the Madison County Board of Elections, the elections board met June 8. Should a recall election come to pass, the board recommends that West Jefferson Council choose to hold it on Aug. 3. Madison-Plains Local Schools is already scheduled to have an issue on the ballot on that date. By holding the recall election on the same date, West Jefferson would save a substantial amount of money on election costs, Ward said.
Those circulating the petition said they would prefer an Aug. 3 date, too, because it lands one day before petitions are due to the Board of Elections to run for office on the November general election ballot. Should the mayor be recalled, his seat would need to be filled.
When asked about this scenario, Ward said hed have to talk to the Secretary of State. Vote tallies the day of an election are considered to be unofficial. By state law, the Board of Elections cannot certify the tally until 10 to 21 days after the election. They need time to count provisional ballots.
Hockenbery has indicated that he would prefer Aug. 31, should a recall election be set. The later date would give the electorate more time to become familiar with the issue, he said.