A complaint has been submitted to the Ohio Elections Commission against an Akron company which distributed robocalls just days before the Nov. 7 election urging a “no” vote on a quarter-percent sales tax in Hancock County.
County voters rejected the tax by a nearly 3 to 1 margin.
The tax, listed as Issue 4 on the ballot, would have funded a jail expansion, additional jail staffing, and construction of a county office building for the county probate/juvenile court and other departments.
The Hancock County commissioners billed the tax as a “safety and security” measure.
The complaint was submitted by Deborah A. Cook of Findlay, representing a group called Families for Safety and Security.
The complaint said computer-generated phone calls from TRZ Communications, Akron, “were received by the residents of Hancock County Ohio, including myself, from unidentified individuals opposing Hancock County Issue 4.”
The complaint says the robocalls violated a state law which prohibits “unfair activities in an issue campaign.”
The complaint said in a robocall on Nov. 2, the caller asked, “Were you aware that the Hancock County commissioners voted themselves a pay raise?”
“This is a blatant lie,” the complaint said. “As per Ohio law, elected officials’ salaries are determined by the state and raises can only go into effect during a new term.”
Robocalls from Nov. 2 through Nov. 7 also stated that “the levy was a 20-year tax increase when it was actually a tax neutral proposal after nine months,” the complaint says.
The tax would have been effective April 1, 2018, and an existing quarter-percent sales tax expires at year-end 2018.
The complaint also says that TRZ Communications violated state law by failing to identify the source of the call.
On all of the robocalls from Nov. 2 through Nov. 7, “the opposition caller did not identify themselves and there was no disclaimer on any of the calls, which is required under the law,” the complaint says.
“These calls potentially impacted the passage of the levy,” according to the complaint.
A cover letter with the complaint states that that TRZ Communications is owned by Portage County resident Tom Zawistowski, who leads a group called the Ohio Liberty Coalition.
“The Ohio Liberty Coalition and their alliances have imposed their viewpoints in a select few local campaigns in northwest Ohio, with the help of the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition (NWOCC),” the letter says.
“NWOCC’s last engagement with Findlay voters was in 2013, when their efforts halted a local tax increase. The vendor used for robotic calls was TRZ Communications. The organization backed by the NWOCC locally was known as Citizens for Findlay and listed Linda Bishop, John Bauer, and Thomas Ross as spokesmen and representatives of that effort,” the letter said.
“Hancock County voters deserve transparency in the electoral process,” and filing this complaint “is the first step in achieving that goal,” the letter says.
The letter says Families for Safety and Security hopes the state will “rule in our favor and require TRZ Communications to disclose the organization who funded these robotic calls in a deliberate attempt at disseminating … false information to voters across the county.”