BOE yet to investigate questionable office hoursWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lucas County Board of Elections has not investigated its former director, more than a month after a Toledo Free Press investigation revealed that the official had charged the county for at least 66 questionable hours.
Former board member Jim Ruvolo expressed interest in questioning former Director Ben Roberts’ records after the story broke in early January, but he resigned from the board Jan. 20. Although two meetings have taken place since the story’s release without mention of an investigation, this is not a dead issue, Ruvolo said.
“It’s still an issue and it’s an issue the board needs to look at,” Ruvolo said.
Former board member Rita Clark said she wants the board to start investigating Roberts’ records.
“That’s taxpayers’ money that was being misused. If someone was misusing my money, I would want to know why and where it went,” Clark said. “It is my money, really, when it comes right down to it.”
Ruvulo said he didn’t bring up the subject at his last meeting because the agenda was too packed with other controversial matters. Now isn’t exactly the easiest time either, he said, because of the March 6 primary and the board reorganization in the beginning of March that mandates the consideration of a new director and deputy director. After the dust settles from that, he said, he plans to discuss Roberts’ “activities or lack thereof” with board member Ron Rothenbuhler.
But Rothenbuhler said, “It’s not on my list; he’s gone. We can’t even get a consistent group to deal with the processes we have.”
Within the past year, Rothenbuhler said, he has seen a director and deputy director fired, one director resign and two board members resign. And during the Feb. 14 meeting, Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio voted to oust Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis. Their effort was met with Rothenbuhler and new board member Keila Cosme’s opposition.
Rothenbuhler said until the elections board shows some direction toward a productive end, he wouldn’t want to dig up old problems.
The honor system
Rothenbuhler and DeAngelis asserted the board needs a more accurate system of charting who enters and leaves the office and other election locations, such as the warehouse. Employees do not have to swipe cards when they enter or leave any election board site.
“In a way, it’s the honor system,” DeAngelis said.
Anyone who enters One Government Center on weekends, however, must sign in at the security desk. The Toledo Free Press investigation compared the front desk logs with Roberts’ recorded work hours and found that he had not signed in on any weekend that he reported working. The total added up to $3,103.98 worth of charges to the county. Rothenbuhler said he and the Lucas County commissioners have discussed a more rigorous sign-in policy for months. But the biggest barrier is funding — establishing a computerized system to record employee presence would be costly, although Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi did not have an exact figure. DeAngelis said that the Roberts investigation did not prompt the idea but Ruvolo said the questions surrounding Roberts’ presence at work pushed the subject to the forefront. Rothenbuhler sees a clock-in system as a logical step.
“We keep identifying potential problems,” Rothenbuhler said. “Why not do what every other employer does? You’ve got people working at [factories] and they don’t get in and out of the gate without checking in. Why are we not doing that for the people who work for the county?”
DeAngelis and Clark kept personal logs charting when Roberts entered and left the office. The days on which they both kept records corresponded with each other and indicated that Roberts did not show up on days he logged hours.
Roberts told Toledo Free Press that he worked “tirelessly” — sometimes putting in 80 hours a week — to complete all of his tasks as director. He said he worked outside the office often when communicating with board members and the secretary of state’s office, compiling research, studying the best practices of election law and meeting with media. No policy from the secretary of state or the county’s employee manual dictates whether directors must work within the office.
But Clark and DeAngelis said that working from home is not feasible because so much of the job description includes working with the deputy director and managing the staff. Roberts resigned from his position in the beginning of December, writing in his departure letter that rigid partisanship kept him from making positive changes and running an efficient elections board. The four board members have yet to agree on a replacement for Roberts but will have to reorganize in the beginning of March because of state mandates.
Clark resigned in August after six years on the board, shortly after Roberts took the director position. She said conditions within the office had turned volatile, with every day becoming a “dreadful experience.” Disturbed by a number of her interactions with Roberts, Clark reported to the secretary of state’s office that he wasn’t performing his job properly and that he was seldom present. However, the duty of investigating such matters falls to the board.
Questions surrounding the former director’s time sheets are just one of the many controversies facing the board. Stainbrook motioned to fire two employees, Dennis Lange and Kelly Mettler, this summer. The board tied on the vote, so the secretary of state’s office broke the tie and ruled in Stainbrook’s favor. Lange and Mettler later filed a lawsuit against the board, asserting that Stainbrook fired them in retaliation for investigating Republican committee members who might have committed voter fraud to elect Stainbrook party chair. Most board meeting votes end in a party-line tie. The meetings typically escalate to heated altercations and eye-rolling among board members and sighs or hushed laughter from the public attending.
“Its very difficult to get anything done,” Rothenbuhler said.
The office is also under investigation by the FBI for unauthorized email usage among staff members.
Clark said at least 10 or 12 people have approached her and told her they’ve lost trust in the Lucas County elections process.
“I heard a lot of people tell me that they’re not even going to vote; they don’t want anything to do with that office,” she said. “It just makes me sick to hear and see what has transpired since I left.”