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Campaign restrictions frustrate Geneva Township incumbent

GENEVA – The irony in the race for Geneva Township highway commissioner ratcheted up a notch after incumbent Mark Wissing protested that the challenger, Michael Abts, was campaigning in the Geneva Township Senior Center, right in the township offices where Wissing’s office is.

But Wissing cannot do the same.

“Is it OK for the man running against me … to campaign at the township offices?” Wissing asked.

Apparently, it is, according to the township ethics ordinance. 

“I don’t think it’s fair that he’s here every day when we serve lunch to seniors – plus it’s my office,” Wissing said. 

The two are on the April 9 consolidated election ballot. Wissing is seeking a second term, and Abts is challenging him.

“If he is an elected official, he can’t pass out stuff,” Abts said. “I’m not elected – yet. I’m also a senior citizen, age 55, according to their rules. And I’m a resident.”

Township Supervisor Patrick Jaeger said the ethics ordinance, pursuant to state statute, prohibits the supervisor, assessor, clerk, highway commissioner, trustees or any township employee from conducting any campaign activity on township property.

The restriction does not apply to those who are not yet elected, Jaeger said.

In an email sent to Wissing, Jaeger said he directed senior center director Sheri McMurray to remove campaign literature left in the building and to “prevent any candidate from conducting a ‘campaign event’ in our building.”

Although Jaeger wrote that he preferred “absolutely no campaigning at all in the township’s facility,” he noted that Abts is a resident, old enough to participate in the senior center “and is otherwise entitled to be in the senior center and may, if he so wishes, speak to people individually as long as he is not conducting a campaign ‘event.’ ”

The ethics ordinance prohibiting Wissing from campaigning on township property “does not prohibit Mr. Abts from doing so. Clearly an unfair outcome,” states Jaeger’s email. “Nonetheless, this is what the legislature has required. I do not think that the township is able to prevent Mr. Abts from using the center and exercising his constitutional right to free speech.”

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