BOE chooses not to remove director and deputy director at Feb. 26 meetingWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Updated with BOE meeting information at 2 p.m. Feb. 26:
On Feb. 25, consultants tasked by the Ohio Secretary of State with evaluating the Lucas County Board of Elections recommended that Director Meghan Gallagher and Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis be fired. However, at a Feb. 26 board meeting, no movement was made toward removing either employee.
Also on Feb. 26, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted officially removed the Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE) from the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) administrative oversight and assistance.
In August 2012, the SOS placed the BOE under the oversight of special masters and then appointed two consultants, citing a dysfunctional board culture. Jim Ruvolo, a Democrat who served on the BOE from 1976-82 and from November 2011 to February 2012, was one of the consultants. Jon Allison, a Columbus-based attorney and Republican, was the other. The men received $7,500 each for their work, with Allison receiving $1,000 more to compensate him for travel and lodging.
The consultants presented their report at a Feb. 25 news conference. It read: “We conclude that the Lucas County Board of Elections as presently situated is devoid of management leadership, is without most of the basic organizational structure, policies and procedures necessary to function as an accountable government entity and is culturally plagued by mistrust and fear.”
In a Feb. 25 interview with Toledo Free Press, Husted said, “The only thing that surprised me [about the report] is just how many things are wrong [with the BOE]. There’s some pretty fundamental things, things like not even having a simple organizational chart.”
The next day in a letter written to board members, Husted wrote, “With yesterday’s release of Mr. Allison and Mr. Ruvolo’s report and recommendations, you have been provided with a roadmap to place the Lucas County Board of Elections on track. My office has provided you with all of the tools and resources that we can reasonably provide.”
Jon Stainbrook, board member and chair of the Lucas County Republican Party, stressed that the report was a recommendation and board members were “absolutely not” firing Gallagher or DeAngelis.
At the Feb. 26 board meeting, Stainbrook introduced a resolution that would eliminate many nonsenior level BOE positions and then require those employees to reapply for their jobs. He cited the employees as the one constant at the BOE since board members and directors frequently leave.
Board Member Anthony DeGidio said he was not prepared to vote on that measure at present and the BOE took a recess to discuss the matter privately. After the recess, Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler said the motion had died without a second.
The Lucas County BOE was the only board in Ohio under the oversight of the SOS during the 2012 elections. In late November 2012, h
aving given the BOE time to focus on the election, the consultants interviewed the board members, special masters, director, deputy director and six other board employees to create
Allison said that while it is the nature of BOEs to be made up of members of opposing political parties, “In most of the counties in the state, the vast majority of the counties in the state, the Republicans and Democrats find a way to get together to work out their differences.”
In their report, the consultants recommended that the Lucas County BOE immediately remove Gallagher and DeAngelis and that the SOS appoint special masters to manage the BOE’s daily work until the new director and deputy director start, which was advised to take place by May 1.
By July 1, an evaluation of the effectiveness and appropriateness of BOE employees’ duties should also take place, according to the recommendations. And by no later than Aug. 1, the board should make the policy changes necessary to “remedy each of the deficiencies described in this report and take action to train all board employees.”
The deficiencies were grouped into three areas on the report: fundamental government entity management, organizational deficiencies and cultural deficiencies.
In terms of fundamental government entity management, Allison said the BOE does not put together a yearly line item-based budget or possess a table of organization, personnel procedures and policies and performance metrics.
“All those things are basic building blocks and the voters and taxpayers of Lucas County should expect that those fundamentals are in place,” Allison said.
Under organizational deficiencies, the report referred to the BOE’s management of physical assets like printers, copiers and computers as “embarrassingly lax.” The consultants also recommended that the BOE’s senior management organize a weekly forum where employees and higher-ups can communicate and develop plans to improve performance. The BOE should also improve its records and information storage, according to the report.
‘Unhealthy’ and ‘aggressive’
The cultural deficiencies section referred to the relationship between Gallagher and DeAngelis, using words like “unhealthy” and “aggressive.”
“There is no working relationship. There is no communication. It’s a situation that is built on paranoia and mistrust,” Allison said.
He added that board members must be mindful that they set the tone and appear civil and professional.
Ruvolo, who said he left the BOE due to his travel schedule, said he felt frustrated while serving.
He also said of his role as a consultant, “I knew there would be questions about my impartiality and quite frankly this is too important,” adding that he did not seek out the position, but was appointed.
“This report reflects [my and Allison’s] recommendations, me with perhaps more knowledge than I should have had. But I think it’s important that I had some knowledge.
“We want people to know that their vote is going to be accurately counted and that it’s going to be fair. And quite frankly, I don’t think the citizens of Lucas County have had that faith for a long time,” Ruvolo said. “So we’re making those recommendations understanding that we’re affecting two lives and perhaps more than that.”
After the Feb. 25 news conference, Stainbrook said, “This is a report done by two people, [one] from an outside law firm in Columbus and one of those people was Jim Ruvolo, who sat on the board and was responsible and has to take responsibility for many of the tie votes and much of the discord at the board.”
“Why he was chosen for this report, I don’t know,” Stainbrook said, adding however that he is prepared to move forward and work with Rothenbuhler, also chair of the Lucas County Democratic Party, to deliver “the best elections possible.”
Both he and Rothenbuhler said that the BOE does have some of the mentioned procedures in place.
Rothenbuhler said, “Certainly to say [policies and procedures are] nonexistent is just not a fact, [although] they may need some drastic revisiting. The board’s going to take the recommendations under advisement and make sure before we take any quick or hasteful actions, that it is part of the solution.”
Stainbrook said, “I just don’t think these gentlemen looked far enough into the details to know what we actually have, so we will do a line by line, you know, rebuttal answer to this report.”
However, he added later that the BOE probably agrees with 90 percent of the report’s findings.
He also pointed out that Gallagher, who replaced former Director Ben Roberts in February 2012, hadn’t served in her position long.
“Meghan was hired, what, five months before the Secretary of State came in? … How can you be held accountable for something that happened for five months?”
Husted said that “given how many times we’ve been through this,” he is confident that the BOE will implement the consultants’ recommendations.
‘Question the messenger’
“The expectation is that they will take the recommendation of the report and act on that,” Husted said.
He added, “Mr. Allison and Mr. Ruvolo are very talented and they certainly demonstrated that they could work together on putting a good report together.”
Husted said of Stainbrook’s remarks, “When you don’t like the results of what you get, you question the messenger.”
Allison said that because of safeguards in place and the special masters, he saw no issues in the counting of votes in the November 2012 election. Still, if corrections aren’t made, the deficiencies may “creep” into other areas, he stressed.
Also at the meeting, Stainbrook said that the search for a new office space capable of handling the BOE was to be “re-energized.” The consultants’ report recommended that the BOE consolidate its offices and warehouse operations.
Board Member John Irish said he was prepared to vote for all the consultants’ recommendations, but was told by Rothenbuhler that that was inappropriate. Irish then requested that Gallagher and DeAngelis present the BOE with an organizational chart, a progressive discipline policy, a plan for dealing with physical assets and a policy for board members dealing with middle management by the next meeting.
DeAngelis said he and Gallagher were working on presenting a new policies and procedures manual.
The BOE is slated to reconvene March 19.