Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Democrat asks investigation

She wants state to check into possible coercion

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A member of the Butler County Democratic Party's central committee wants the state to investigate whether two Democrats on the county Board of Elections tried to coerce campaign funds from a board employee earlier this year.

        Dana Walch of the Ohio Secretary of State's office, said his agency on Tuesday received a notarized statement from Donna K. Nicol, the central committee member, calling for a probe.

        In her notarized statement, Ms. Nicol describes a March 1 meeting in which elections board members Don Daiker and Mark Conese met with Brent Dixon, a special assistant to the board. Ms. Nicol did not attend the meeting, but questioned Mr. Daiker and Mr. Conese about it, and then heard a tape-recording of it made by Mr. Dixon.

        “I have listened to that tape. I believe that during that conversation, Brent Dixon was placed on notice that if he did not give all of his after-tax income to the Democratic Party that he could be terminated,” Ms. Nicol's statement says. “This unfair treatment of a subordinate should be investigated.”

        Ms. Nicol said she thinks Mr. Dixon's part-time salary — which was allegedly requested to be contributed to the Democratic Party — is about $6,000. She said his duties include repairing voting machines and assisting with elections.

        Six days after the March 1 meeting, Mr. Dixon and several members of his family, including his father, Don, a former Democratic Party chairman, voted as Republicans in the primary election. The prominent family's defection was viewed as a major blow to the Democrats in Republican-dominated Butler County.

        Ms. Nicol said she saw the switch as a signal that the Dixon family “made the decision not to tolerate that sort of treatment.” She lamented the party's loss of the Dixon family, and said, “I am a good Democrat, and I believe in the Democratic Party philosophy. I don't intend to switch parties. That's not my motive. It's to keep some semblance of honor, some semblance of fairness within the party I had worked so hard for all my life.”

        Ms. Nicol, a Butler County Democrat since 1971, said deciding to ask for the investigation was difficult.

        “When this whole issue surfaced, that a member of the Democratic Party had been treated in the manner that Brent Dixon had been treated, I found it very distressing,” she said. “And I feel as though I would not tolerate this sort of behavior of any political party, let alone my own.”

        Mr. Walch said his office planned to send a letter today via certified mail to Mr. Dixon confirming that a tape exists and requesting that its contents be shared with the Secretary of State. Mr. Walch said he couldn't say what would happen next.

        Don Dixon declined to comment Tuesday; Mr. Daiker, who is the county's Democratic Party chairman, and Mr. Conese could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

        Ms. Nicol traveled to Columbus on April 4 to discuss the matter with members of the Secretary of State's staff, Mr. Walch con firmed. She also had at least one telephone conversation with that office regarding the alleged coerced contribution.

        “While I am aware that others have also made you aware of the events that transpired on March 1, I am writing this letter in an effort to get you to take some action,” Ms. Nicol wrote in her notarized statement.

        “I am disappointed that the Secretary of State's office failed to act until a member of the public steps forth with a request for action. I wonder how many problems or violations of law go un-investigated because of your policy.”

        Mr. Walch said his office receives phone calls daily alleging wrongdoing, but any such complaint is difficult to act upon unless someone steps forward.

        Otherwise, he said, “it's really just hearsay.”


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