Belmont Dems Select Thomas

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The Belmont County Democrat Central Committee voted Thursday to return former commissioner Mark Thomas to the job, selecting him to fill the seat left vacant by the recent retirement of Charles Probst.

Thomas defeated Probst and three other candidates – John Mattox of Flushing, former commissioner Michael Bianconi, and Pultney Township Trustee Frank Shaffer on the committee’s second vote of the evening.

Belmont County voters elected Thomas to the commission in 2000, where he served two terms before Commissioner Matt Coffland defeated him in 2008. Thomas will now serve alongside Coffland and Ginny Favede.

“Obviously, I’m jumping into a seat that’s very familiar to me,” Thomas said. “I will do what I did for eight years, and that’s work the best I possibly can for the success of Belmont County on many different fronts. Those of you who know me best know I’m a straight shooter. You will know where I stand whether you agree with me or disagree with me. My ears and doors are always open. I have never professed to know everything about the job. I’ve made good decisions. I’ve made bad decisions. I will continue ardently working for the county and this party.”

He added the most important thing for county Democrats is “our ability to win this seat in November 2014.”

“It’s not about me,” Thomas said. “Whoever comes out of the primary in May … we need to be unified. We need to be organized for that person to win the seat in November.”

Thomas said he will seek election to the commission on the Democrat ballot next year.

Probst has said he did not want to retire from the commission, but did so to collect full benefits under the state Public Employees Retirement System before laws change at the end of the year. He wished to be reappointed to the commission, though PERS rules indicated he would have to leave public office for at least two months to become eligible for retirement benefits.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, committee members were told the candidate winning the appointment must receive the vote of at least half of those present, plus one more. There were 49 eligible voting members present, meaning a vote total of at least 26 votes was necessary for victory.

On the first vote, Thomas received 25 votes; Probst, nine; Mattox, eight; Bianconi, four; and Shaffer, three. Shaffer was eliminated from the next round of voting.

On the second vote, Thomas captured 27 votes; Probst, 11; Mattox, 10; and Bianconi, one.

Thomas was nominated for the appointment by Dwayne Pielech, former director of Job and Family Services, who said Thomas would work “to change some of the negative things to come out of the courthouse” in recent years.

Thomas isn’t certain when he will be sworn in to office, but he expects it will happen before the commission next meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday.