ST. CLAIRSVILLE - At least five men have informed the Belmont County Democrat Central Committee they want appointed to the county commission seat recently vacated by Charles Probst - including Probst himself, according to county Democrat Party Chairman Gordie Longshaw.
Committee members will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Red Room at Belmont College to select a commissioner to fill out the remainder of Probst's elected term, which extends through 2014. Probst retired from the commission effective Nov. 30 so that he could collect full benefits under the state Public Employees Retirement System before laws change at year's end that reduce what he would receive, according to Longshaw. He noted Probst now is among those seeking appointment to his elected post.
Longshaw said others indicating an interest in the job are former commissioner and current Pease Township Trustee Mike Bianconi; retired businessman John Mattox of Flushing; Pultney Township Trustee Frank Shaffer; and former commissioner Mark Thomas of St. Clairsville.
"Anybody can be nominated by the Central Committee," he said.
In 2012, the Ohio General Assembly passed a new PERS law that took effect Jan. 7, 2013 that cuts benefits to younger recipients. Among other provisions, the law requires a minimum age of 55 and 32 years of service to retire by the end of 2013 without reduced benefits. Probst is 56.
In July, Bianconi was the first Belmont County official to step down from his trustee post so that he could collect his full PERS benefits. After a two-month period required under PERS law, Bianconi was re-appointed to the position, and later won re-election to a four-year term in November.
But Longshaw said Probst believes he can avoid the two-month rule by not taking a pay for two months following his retirement from the commission. Longshaw added the county party is checking with party attorneys in Columbus to see if this is permissible, and expects an answer prior to Thursday's meeting.
Probst did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
Commissioners are next scheduled to meet at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday with only commissioners Ginny Favede and Matt Coffland present.
The commission has been considering the transfer of $1.9 million to fund a connector road from U.S. 40 to the Ohio Valley Plaza. Favede and Probst have reservations about transferring the money, while Coffland favors funding the project immediately.
Longshaw acknowledged a change in commissioners could change the overall vote on the transfer.
"The law says we couldn't have a meeting to appoint someone within five days of Commissioner Probst's retiring on Nov. 30," he said. "That's why we're doing this (as soon as possible) on Dec. 5, so we can have three commissioners within the week."
Thus far, no candidate has filed for the Belmont County commission seat up for election in 2014, according to the Belmont County Board of Elections. Probst, though, has indicated he will seek re-election next year.
Longshaw said the committee won't necessarily appoint a commissioner who will be on the primary election ballot.
"It could be a temporary person," he said. "We want to make it a fair ground for everyone. And Chuck was elected by the people. That's a consideration, too."