A split between the Butler County Democratic Party and its top elected public official in the county became public Friday.
The executive committee of the Butler County Democratic Committee announced it was censuring county Commissioner Jim Eckstein over his lack of action regarding a fire drill in the county government center.
In a news release, the committee said it passed this motion on Oct. 15:
“The Butler County Democratic Committee finds Commissioner Eckstein’s conduct involving the emergency fire alarm activation on October 5th 2012 at the Butler County Government building unacceptable. His conduct endangered the safety of county employees, and since he is a member of the Butler County Democratic Committee, his actions have a negative impact on the party.
“The Butler County Democratic Committee does not condone Eckstein’s actions and, therefore, censures his conduct involving this incident.”
Dave Kerr, publicity chairman for the committee, said Friday that the censure focused on this event because it was specific and was not a subjective issue.
While this was a relatively minor situation, Kerr said “this is a big statement by the Democrats.”
“People have a problem wtih his behavior,” said Kerr, whose wife is the county party chair. “This is saying that we don’t approve.”
Kerr said this is a first of several steps the committee expects to take against Eckstein. The committee has 18 members, he said.
“This is a first step in establishing a line of communication with Jim Eckstein. He does not talk with us.”
When he learned of his censure on Friday, Eckstein said, “I’m on the executive committee, and they did not call me to speak, to defend myself. They did this behind closed doors”
He added, “The executive committee is so inept that this can only do me good for the next election.”
He said he would have no other comment until he talked with Jim Burns, state Democratic chairman, and Larry Kriess, a former county party chairman.
Kerr said Eckstein’s actions since he became a commissioner in January have hurt the party. Kerr said the party got less advertising in its program for this year’s annual dinner because of dissatisfaction with Eckstein.
That dinner was Thursday night.
To his knowledge, this is the first time the party has censured an elected party official.
A number of people have complained about Eckstein’s conduct in office and his failure to work with the other two commissioners, who are both Republicans.
Kerr, himself, has called in the past for Eckstein to resign.
Regarding the fire alarm incident, county officials said that Eckstein reportedly failed to evacuate the government center after a fire alarm was triggered by an accidental leak from fire extinguishers. Initially, county and emergency officials initially didn’t know why the alarm was triggered and evacuated the building.
Sheriff Mike Slupe said Eckstein refused to leave his office on the fifth floor so deputies had to get him to leave. Slupe said not evacuating is a safety hazard and violation of county procedures.
County officials claim Eckstein, who eventually went downstairs, caused a delay in helping an employee in a wheelchair who requires aid getting out of the building.