Update: Protesters, former employees question validity of elections boardWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Related: Toledo Free Press editorial: No Confidence IV
About a dozen protesters outside One Government Center yesterday waved signs and shouted “Reform the board,” only to be forced out of a Lucas County Board of Elections meeting that immediately followed.
Led by the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, the protesters demanded that all board members be fired. Among the group were Dennis Lange and Ida Hartfield, two employees fired by the board within the last year. Lange and Hartfield are suing the board for wrongful termination, joined by two others who have filed suit for wrongful termination within the past year.
“I think that (Secretary of State Jon) Husted should come up and walk into everyone’s office, advise them they have one hour to clear out their possessions and put them on administrative leave and appoint five new people to head up this organization,” said John McAvoy, board member of the coalition.
The protesters’ rejection of the board followed Husted’s announcement that his office is placing the board of elections on administrative oversight.
According to the letter sent yesterday, Husted is assigning a “Special Master” outside election administrator for each party to oversee daily operations. Additionally, the director and deputy director must now clock in and out with Husted’s human resource director and forward all emails to or from the director and deputy director to the state office. Husted’s regional election internet technical support liaison will also be onsite for at least two days a week. Husted will task a bipartisan election administration to compile a report of policies, procedures and recommendations for the Lucas County Board of Elections by Dec. 31.
Husted reprimanded the board for failing to work together to produce position descriptions and a bipartisan organizational chart. Dan DeAngelis, deputy director of the board, said that the Democrats had proposed a new organizational chart but it met a tie vote. Husted ordered that the board create a unified agreement on the subject and define the director and deputy director roles.
This was one of many tie-votes that Husted has had to break.
“Since becoming Secretary of State, my office has devoted an inordinate amount of time to mediating the personal and political squabbles of the Lucas County Board of Elections,” Husted wrote.
Director Meghan Gallagher did not return a call for comment. Republican board member Jon Stainbrook’s voice mailbox was full when called for comment.
McAvoy said he appreciates Husted’s decision to step in. He planned to read a letter before the board during the public meeting.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chair of the board, told McAvoy’s group at the beginning of the meeting to hold public comment until after the board members went into an executive session to discuss pending litigation. The group complied, sat through the public meeting and waited for an hour and a half for the board to finish its executive session. But when McAvoy’s group re-entered the room at the end of the executive session, Rothenbuhler said the board could not accept public comments.
Rothenbuhler said that he did not allow the public comment period after talking with legal counsel and learning that the board does not have a policy about public commenting.
“This is exactly why the secretary of state needs to step in,” McAvoy said. “It’s a public entity — why isn’t the public being allowed to speak at a public meeting? It’s very disturbing.”
Amid the controversy, the reality for Hartfield is constant job hunting.
Hartfield had worked as a clerk since 2008, but was officially fired in July. She was told it was because she didn’t have a high school diploma or a GED.
“It’s hard, being my age that I am, it’s hard to get jobs,” Hartfield said. “Nobody’s trying to hire anybody over 50.”
Other former employees who have quit are raising questions about the board’s January Election Administration Plan (EAP), a document that includes detailed descriptions of resource allocation, precinct election official recruitment, training and accountability, election day contingencies and security among other tasks.
The board must submit the EAP to the League of Women Voters as a result of a settlement in 2008 that dealt with a case in which the league alleged violations of election law.
Tim Ide, who worked for the board for more than a year, notified the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County of discrepancies about poll worker assessment, among other concerns.
Bonnie Bishop, co-president of the county’s league, said that the group is “not ignoring” the letter.
During the most recent primary election, about 70 voters received the wrong ballots.
Toledo Free Press will report more as the story develops.