Home City Kotses’ county treasurer bid heightens tension in Democratic Party

Kotses’ county treasurer bid heightens tension in Democratic Party

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City Councilmember Peter Kotses won reelection to his at-large Athens City Council seat this past November, but shortly after the victory he announced his campaign for Athens County treasurer.

Kotses, who is serving his third term on City Council, said he enjoys overseeing governmental functions of Athens more than crafting legislation, which is the primary reason he is running for the position.

Known for being an owner of Athens Bicycle, Kotses also expressed wanting another full-time job, which the position of councilmember does not fulfill. Kotses also indicated he’s considering stepping away from his business in the future.

“I could stay here and watch the 3-5% growth (of my business) every year, that’s kind of what you can anticipate (for) the average lifespan of a business. But I would love to help make a greater impact, and so I’d like to get out of this altogether,” Kotses said. 

If he wins his party’s nomination and goes on to win the general election in November, Kotses will be able to serve the majority of his term on council. While many elected positions begin in January following the election, the county treasurer does not take office until September.

Incumbent Democratic Treasurer Ric Wasserman expressed discontent with Kotses’ decision to run, saying it’s unusual for a challenger to run against their own party’s incumbent — especially in a local election.

“I helped (Kotses) get reelected (to City Council),” Wasserman said. “I sat across the table from him and put labels on his mail pieces before they went out. I contribute to the Democratic Party every month. The party spent quite a bit of money on the election, it wasn’t just him, but it was the three at-large people, so I’ve definitely been a champion of his career in the context of helping the party itself.”

John Haseley, chair of the Athens Democratic Central Committee, agreed with Wasserman.

As party chair, I personally don’t like situations where someone challenges an incumbent officeholder who is working hard and doing a good job,” he said. Haseley tried to deter Kotses from running, he said.

This isn’t Kotses’ first time running for treasurer against Wasserman. The two faced off in 2018, which resulted in a tied contest where they each drew a random card from a deck to determine a winner.

At the time, Bill Bias resigned from his position as county treasurer. For countywide positions such as treasurer, if an elected official resigns, their party appoints a member to that position until an election can take place. Kotses and Wasserman ran for treasurer within the Democratic Central Committee — a voting bloc of the county Democratic Party.

“Because this was an intra-party thing, they could choose how they (broke the tie),” Wasserman said. “They spread out a deck of cards and whoever picked the high card wins.”

Wasserman pointed to the framed king playing card sitting on his office window. “That was my card,” he said.

It’s not uncommon for ties in county elections across the state to be decided by a coin toss, according to The Athens NEWS. It last happened during the 2008 primary election for Athens County commissioner.

Kotses will face Wasserman again in the Democratic primary in March. No Republican will appear on the general election ballot because no members of the party registered before the filing deadline.

The position of county treasurer functions as the “bank of the county,” Wasserman said. Treasurers also serve on the board of a county’s Land Bank, nonprofit government organizations that converse or revitalize vacant, dilapidated and tax-delinquent properties that are detriments to communities.

Wasserman said there are many run-down houses in the county because of the effects of coal mining and brick making industries leaving the area.

“So, it’s my job to go out into the communities and work with the mayors and the township trustees, to figure out where are your difficult properties (and) what do you have to do to get them taken care of,” Wasserman said. 

Wasserman said working on Land Bank projects takes up nearly half of his time. 

Treasurers are responsible for tax collection, which is vital to all city services. If a levy is passed within the city, money can not be allocated to the cause of the levy — such as a school funding — unless the tax money is collected. Wasserman explained that it’s the treasurer’s job to ensure necessary funds are collected. 

Treasurers also develop payment plans for tax-delinquent individuals so they can repay the money owed over time.

According to Wasserman, treasurers undergo certification and verification for the position, which can be done in the months leading up to taking the office.

The treasurer would lose accountability if another official assumed the position during tax collection, he added.

“I am personally responsible for the money that goes through the office. We are the last officials in Ohio who are personally responsible, down to our last cufflinks, for the money that goes through the office,” Wasserman said. 

The primary election for Athens County treasurer will be held March 17.

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