No confidence IIWritten by Tom Pounds/ Michael S. Miller | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Before the Sept. 13 primary, Toledo Free Press urged the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to “treat the Lucas County elections process as a crisis situation and provide every possible element of oversight and guidance to ensure the election is not compromised. The Secretary of State’s current administrative oversight does not provide confidence that enough is being done to prevent untold damage to the already wobbling integrity of Lucas County elections.”
The primary was not marred any notable breakdowns, though with roughly 5 percent turnout, the margin for error did not lend itself to many opportunities for mischief.
After the primary, Secretary of State Jon Husted chose an opposite approach and released the BOE from SOS oversight.
The result? Just days before an important Nov. 8 election, the BOE is embroiled in wrongful termination lawsuits, continued infighting, a dramatic seizure of BOE computers and swirling rumors of serious document-handling and procedural transgressions.
It is not a good time for the SOS to have its attention elsewhere.
Email raises questions
On Oct. 28, law enforcement agencies including the FBI reportedly confiscated two computers from the BOE office over an alleged email breach.
The email reportedly raises questions about BOE documents being improperly handled.
Toledo Free Press learned Nov. 1 that the investigation focused at least in part on an email allegedly sent from an account operated by Gina Marie Kaczala, who is described as a BOE seasonal worker. Emails from the account, and emails to and from the recipient of the email, were requested under public records laws by Toledo Free Press.
Marty Limmer, Lucas County Board of Elections information services manager, contacted Toledo Free Press on Nov. 1 and denied the request, citing a recommendation from the prosecutor’s office and Ohio Revised Code 149.43 Section (A)(1)(H), which states confidential law enforcement investigative records are not public records.
Restating the obvious
As we have noted before, it is no secret that the Lucas County BOE has been under siege since Jon Stainbrook was elected chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party. For more than two years, Stainbrook and his associates threatened to sue the BOE, sued the BOE and reportedly made professional life difficult for a number of people who committed no greater sin than somehow not behaving in the way Stainbrook wanted.
His long quest for and landing of the appointment to the BOE, where such respected people as Jill Kelly, Michael Beazley and Dee Talmage once served, compromises and makes suspect its ability to operate legitimate elections. Stainbrook is accompanied on the board by his longtime attorney, Anthony DeGidio, who is there to vote as Stainbrook guides him and has shown zero inclination to bring an iota of independent thought or consideration to this most important of duties.
There was some good news with the early September return of Jim Ruvolo, a former chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party with six years of BOE experience.
A longtime political consultant, Ruvolo worked for the Clinton and Gore campaigns and co-chaired the Rules Committee at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. He has led the county and state Democratic parties and will bring a great degree of political savvy to the BOE morass.
Ruvolo has steadfastly refused to allow his Republican counterparts to hide behind executive sessions, forcing the BOE’s business to remain in the light where it belongs.
As we said before, the BOE was not perfect at its best, but there was progress being made as former administrators Linda Howe and Jeremy Demagall struggled to devote energy and time to their jobs while under constant public attack from Stainbrook, who has yet to offer any constructive plans for the BOE, just a continuing headhunting mission against his perceived opponents.
The warpath tactics to remove several BOE employees, just weeks before the primary election, showed no moderation or willingness to cooperatively improve the situation. It is a scorched-earth approach that has the BOE existing in a state of fear and uncertainty.
Waiting for Husted
We noted previously that Husted had not distinguished himself in serving Northwest Ohio, and that has not changed. Has his inclination to avoid dealing with the Stainbrook-created chaos granted de facto permission for the turmoil to thrive? His office first told the BOE to solve its own issues, then caved and allowed the Aug. 8 firing of two employees, one of whom, Kelly Mettler, had served since 1994. The employees were fired, not for job performance issues, but for dubious “irreconcilable differences” with Stainbrook and DeGidio.
There has been speculation that the powers that be at the state level decided to give Stainbrook enough room to make an inevitable, epic mistake, resulting in his exit well before the all-important 2012 presidential election. If that is the case, that long-term approach could result in a miserable short-term episode in local elections.
We recognize that dealing with Lucas County’s extracurricular drama is a distraction and a messy situation, but a “give ‘em enough rope” approach risks the integrity of our local elections process.
BOE Director Ben Roberts is singing an optimistic tune in public, offering what we describe as “Nope, nothing wrong here” platitudes about the process being in what he calls “fantastic shape.”
Given the chaos under his purview, it is fair to question just how smudged Roberts’ rose-colored glasses are.
To repeat: If the Secretary of State’s office does not increase its oversight and guarantee the BOE can run an efficient and honest election, the resulting lack of confidence and potential legal issues will rest squarely on its shoulders.
There will be scandal on a scale that makes the usual local political games look like preschool frolics, and Husted will carry direct responsibility.
If the chaos is allowed to continue, the only vote that will be believed is a resounding vote of no confidence in the process.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.