Gallagher out, Kaczala in as Lucas County BOE directorWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE) called a special meeting to order on March 4. Twelve minutes and two quick but contentious votes later, the board had a new director while retaining its deputy director.
Republican Jon Stainbrook lobbied hard to keep Meghan Gallagher, but the other three board members decided a change was needed, elevating board secretary Gina Kaczala to director by a 3-1 vote. Both Gallagher and Kaczala are Republicans.
Democrat Dan DeAngelis was retained as deputy director, with Stainbrook again the lone dissenting vote.
Both positions are two-year terms.
In a third vote, board member Ron Rothenbuhler, a Democrat, was unanimously retained as board chair.
Speaking to reporters after the reorganization meeting, Kaczala and DeAngelis called themselves a “united team” and promised “a fresh start” for a board that has been plagued for years by divisiveness and dysfunction.
“I’m going to bring consistency to this office,” Kaczala said. “We have in the last few years dealt with a division. We are dealing with the problem of the public not being informed the way they should be. … Together our one and only responsibility is to the public — informing the public of the election process, how it’s conducted and what we can do to better serve them.”
DeAngelis said he’s confident Kaczala can improve the BOE’s workplace morale.
“Having a different director can make a whole heck of a lot of change in terms of personnel, how the office functions, how the personnel is treated,” he said.
Both deflected questions about the board’s prior troubles.
“That’s not for me to discuss,” Kaczala said. “My focus is on tomorrow and a fresh start.”
“There were personnel issues, obviously. There was a lot of dysfunction in this office and that’s really all I’ll say. We’re going to move forward and hopefully make it better,” DeAngelis said. “To echo Gina, I’m ready to have a new start tomorrow. It’s a new beginning at the Board of Elections. We’re just going to move forward hopefully to have fair, accurate and efficient elections for the voters. That’s what we’re here for.”
Both said they are confident the BOE will be ready for the primary elections in May.
“Absolutely,” Kaczala said. “It’s teamwork. That’s all it is. … We are going to work hard and we are going to do our best. And I think the voters are going to see that.”
BOE member John Irish, a Democrat, served as acting chairman during the nomination and voting process. Stainbrook nominated Gallagher and BOE member Anthony DeGidio, a Democrat, nominated Kaczala.
As Irish started to call for a vote, he was interrupted by Stainbrook, who called for a discussion.
“I don’t believe there’s discussion on this matter,” Irish said.
“Well, there’s going to be discussion this time, John,” he said, before launching into a lengthy diatribe against Kaczala and DeAngelis. He continued to speak over several protests from other board members.
“I have absolutely no confidence in Gina Kaczala being capable of running this election for the primary in May,” Stainbrook said. “Gina has no management skills, no professional ability and is incapable of telling the truth. The voters in Lucas County deserve better.”
He accused both Kaczala and DeAngelis of being more concerned with trivial details — such as “picking out the color of the carpet squares and ordering new markers” for the new BOE headquarters – than vital tasks, such as making sure the ballots are in order for the upcoming election.
“I have zero confidence that this board will be able to move forward with this May election,” Stainbrook said.
Stainbrook also questioned whether Kaczala met the minimum eligibility requirements for director. However, he was apparently citing an outdated document, and other board members pointed out there was a more recent set of directives.
Following the three votes, Stainbrook and Gallagher walked out of the room as Rothenbuhler began to swear in Kaczala and DeAngelis. Gallagher was unable to be reached for comment. Stainbrook did not respond to a request for comment.
Kaczala declined to respond to Stainbrook’s accusations.
“I have no comment to those type of comments,” she said after the meeting. “They are silly. They’re not appropriate. They’re unprofessional and they had no place in the boardroom.”
Rothenbuhler said after the meeting that — despite Stainbrook’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Gallagher that he said continued up to the moment the meeting started — he had came to the difficult conclusion it was time for a change.
“She has not, in my idea, gathered support from board members and from employees,” Rothenbuhler said. “This is a part of a movement to straighten things up so we have more of a confidence from the employees and the public.”
Rothenbuhler said his main issue with Gallagher was her people skills, citing the low office morale and high employee turnover rate during her tenure.
“I believe a new person with professional background in elections and a few public servant positions has a better chance of trying to have a better relationship among employees and board members than one I’ve already seen that doesn’t work for the last couple years. So I’m willing to take the risk, if there is any, in someone new.”
In August 2012, citing a dysfunctional board culture, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted placed the Lucas County BOE under the oversight of special masters and then appointed two consultants tasked with evaluating the board. Among the consultants’ recommendations last year were that Gallagher and DeAngelis be removed.
Rothenbuhler said he doesn’t like firing people and he’s been trying to come to a workable solution.
“If I personally in my heart feel that I can’t make any changes, I have to do what I have to do,” Rothenbuhler said. “I don’t have any good feeling about eliminating somebody’s job. Never have, never will. But sometimes you’ve got to do the job that you got.
“I’ve tossed and turned over this for the past few months,” he added. “It’s the right thing to do. Period.
DeGidio also said he felt the board did the right thing.
“I take these issues seriously,” DeGidio said. “I think we did the right thing.”
Irish cited several recent occurrences that he felt “dictated a change in leadership,” including Gallagher’s decision to keep the office open during a level 3 snow emergency and her disregard of a board decision regarding an email access policy.
“I think we just needed a change,” Irish said. “Gallagher was not a good fit for our office. The staff morale was bad in the office and I think it was affecting productivity. And I think she wasn’t working well with the board as well.”
Rothenbuhler and Irish said they are cautiously optimistic the transition will be smooth.
“I always hope for smooth,” Rothenbuhler said. “I’m a person that believes in a glass is half full and I’d like to fill it up. But we’ll see.”
Irish said he hopes the change will help in the long-run, but predicted things may remain tense in the short-term.
“I think it was one important step for us to take,” Irish said. “I certainly hope it improves things. I think in the short run, things will probably be a little tough. I think [Stainbrook’s] a little angry at this time, but hopefully over time we get back to what we’re supposed to be doing and running elections.”