Even though nearly 6,000 voters have cast absentee ballots or voted in person at the board of elections office in St. Clairsville in Tuesday's primary election, the turnout has not been as good as elections officials had expected.
"We're down from what we had anticipated," Belmont County Board of Elections director Bill Shubat declared. "The Democrats have been in the majority as had been expected," Shubat noted, and added, "but a lot more Republicans than usual have been coming in."
About a month ago when he was instructing a class of prospective poll workers for the primary election, Shubat predicted a turnout of 50 percent of the registered voters because of the interest shown by the public at that time. But last week he was a bit hesitant. "We may hit a 50 percent turnout but I think it'll be a little less than that." He based his change of heart on the fact that the absentee balloting has not been as heavy as he initially anticipated after the exceptionally large number that voted absentee in the November general election.
"So far we've had around 5,000 absentee ballots cast, not as many as I had anticipated," Shubat stated. But he added, the voters coming to the board offices to vote has been on the upswing. As of Thursday afternoon, "we've had 570 vote in person. We have a pretty good precinct here," he chuckled.
What prompted the increase in the turnout of Republicans, Shubat countered, undoubtedly was caused by the strong campaign being waged by the four remaining candidates in the running for president. Republicans have just two contests on the primary ballot - for president and for the U.S. Senate.
Four local contests on the Democrat ballot are generating an above average voter interest. Three candidates are seeking to gain the treasurer seat to be vacated by Joe Gaudio; Sheriff Fred A. Thompson is being challenged for his third term; Ginny Favede is facing opposition to claim her second term and three candidates are in the running for 95th District state representative.
In addition, Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville is seeking to reclaim the seat in the U.S. House of Representative that he lost two years ago to Republican Rep. Bill Johnson. Wilson is being challenged for the Democrat nomination by Cas Adulewicz of Steubenville.
In the rather hotly contested treasurer race, the three combatants are former county commissioner and Pease Township trustee Michael Bianconi of Brookside; Katherine Kelich-Curfman of St. Clairsville, an administrative assistant in the Belmont County magistrate's office; and Attorney Michael Shaheen of St. Clairsville, who has been serving as chairman of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission on a six-year term to which he was appointed in 2008.
As of late last week, Favede had received only token opposition in her bid to go unopposed into the general election in November. Challenging her for the commission seat is Lyle Baumgardner of Neffs.
In the sheriff's contest, Thompson is gunning for his third consecutive term and is facing a stiff challenge from veteran Bellaire Police Lt. Dick Flanagan, who brings 17 years of law enforcement experience .
The three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for state representative have been engaged in an active but quiet campaign. They are Jim Drake, a faculty member in the St. Clairsville City School District; William N. Weekley of St. Clairsville, a former city councilman and policeman in Martins Ferry; and Charlie Daniels of St. Clairsville, who claims diverse business experience and 17 years of public service.
There are 48,686 registered voters in Belmont County who will choose the winning candidates.
For the first time ever a "cultural fund" for museums in Belmont County was created and, an increase in the total amount of grant funds available to organizations in the county for holding or sponsoring tourism related activities, are included in the Belmont County Tourism Council's $469,700 budget for 2012.
By unanimous vote the council approved establishing a cultural fund in the amount of $20,000 for the four museums in the county, the funds to be used specifically for physical improvements to their facilities. Noting that he had been advised numerous structural improvements are needed at the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum in Barnesville, member Richard Thompson recommended that $5,000 be allocated to the museum for that purpose.
While discussing the matter the board decided to qualify the three other museums - Sedgwick in Martins Ferry, Underground Railroad in Flushing and the Imperial Glass in Bellaire - for the cultural funds. Each of these institutions will receive separate grants of $5,000. It was decided this will be a one-time allocation just for this year.
In addition, the four museums will still be permitted to submit applications for the Grant Assistance Program (GAP) which qualifies the successful applicants from throughout the county with from $500 to $2,500 annually for staging programs and events that are considered tourism or historic related.
Funds for the overall GAP program were also increased in the budget. In the past the limit on the total amount of money available to the various organizations was set at $50,000. Starting with the grants to be awarded this year, the total amount available will be increased by $20,000 to $70,000.
The budget also includes additional monies for advertising in various publications and also for the printing of brochures and maps, both to promote Belmont County.
A sheriff's deputy who was forced on a moment's notice to become a wild game hunter almost in his backyard was a surprise visitor to St. Clairsville last week.
On the evening of Oct. 18, 2011, after receiving a radio alert that "a lion and a bear are on the loose," Muskingum County Deputy Jonathan Merry sped to the scene and found that not only those two animals but also 38 others that had escaped from a wild animal preserve. He, along with a horde of other law enforcement officials scouring the preserve and surrounding area, had orders to shoot to kill to protect human life.
"It was something that I never dreamed would ever happen," Merry commented. As he was driving to the scene, he briefly saw one of the grey wolves running loose.
When a four-hour drama that included one harrowing, close call came to an end, Merry counted nine animals he had to shoot. "There was one Bengal tiger, one black bear, one grizzly bear, three full mane African lions, one female lion, and two grey wolves."
For hunting down the animals, Merry was using an AR15 rifle. But on one occasion when he stepped out of his patrol car, he left behind his rifle. In that instant he spotted a 350-pound bear and the animal spotted him and started toward him. "It was charging. I couldn't get back to my car to get the rifle so I had to shoot him with my pistol. It was about seven feet away when I shot."
To which his father, Belmont County Port Authority director Larry Merry chimed in, "he was lucky. A pistol doesn't usually bring down a 350-pound bear."
The exotic animals were on the loose because the owner of the wild animal preserve near Zanesville, Terry Thompson, had opened their cages and left the fence surrounding the 40-acre site unsecured. He then committed suicide. A total of 48 of the animals had to be put down by the law enforcement contingent.
Merry came to St. Clairsville to spend the day with his father since he was not on duty with the sheriff's office in Zanesville. He is recuperating from recent cancer surgery which he said involved removal of 20 percent of one kidney.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.