Husted heralds ‘new era’ at BOE; Hill elected chairWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted traveled to Toledo on July 22 to personally welcome and deliver his vote of confidence to the members of the newly reorganized Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE).
It was the first official meeting of the board since Husted removed three of the four members last month, citing a culture of “dysfunction.”
Calling it a “new era” for the Lucas County BOE, Husted said he was confident in the board’s ability to restore voter trust.
“I thought it was important for me to be here today on the occasion as you begin the process of restoring public trust to the Board of Elections,” Husted told the board. “And I thank you very much for your willingness to serve.”
“This is in my view a new and better day,” he said, encouraging the members to create “a climate and a culture of cooperation and competency.”
The new board is comprised of Democrats John Irish and Brenda Hill and Republicans Mark Wagoner Sr. and Peter Handwork. Hill was quickly and unanimously elected chairperson during the meeting, which lasted about half an hour.
Husted acknowledged it’s unusual for a secretary of state to make a personal appearance at a county BOE meeting, but said he felt it was warranted in this case.
“This is no ordinary occasion,” Husted said outside the meeting. “This is a board that’s been troubled for a number of years. It’s been our biggest problem spot in the entire state. And today is a new day for it. I wanted to make sure they knew they had my confidence and support and that we would provide the resources they needed to make sure they got off to a good start.”
Husted also announced July 22 that training for the November general election would be mandatory for all poll workers statewide. In the past, new workers have been required to go through training but returning workers only had to be trained every three years.
To help offset costs, Husted announced $760,000 in extra grants to be distributed amongst Ohio’s 88 counties based on the number of registered voters. Lucas County will get $30,720 and Wood County will get $9,442.
Interim Director Gina Kaczala, a Republican, expressed confidence in the new board.
“I think we have the possibility of a real dream team,” she said. “They really seem to want to be a team. They are here to solve problems, not create problems. … Everyone is here just to serve the voter.”
All four members said they felt confident they could work together and pull off a smooth election.
“That’s what I think the board of elections’ goal is, not to fight and feud with each other. I just don’t think we’re going to do that,” Wagoner said.
“In previous boards, we had some hidden agendas,” Irish said. “These are team players.”
“I am very encouraged and very excited about where this board is headed,” Handwork said. “I honestly feel we are going to work very well together to do what needs to be done to restore in the voters of Lucas County confidence in our process.”
Hill, a retired teacher, said she was chosen as chairperson because of her past experience as president of the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education and because traditionally the board chairperson is from the opposite party of the director.
“We have all said we are working together and our goal is to have this run smoothly and correctly,” Hill said.
“In my opinion [problems in the past] was mostly just differences in personality and I think sometimes there might have been bad feelings about what might have happened years back. But with [Husted's] mandate that the new members have nothing to do with the board of elections all of that is gone. We don’t have anything to do with it. We’re all new except Mr. Irish.”
Removed from the board in June were Republicans Jon Stainbrook and Anthony DeGidio and Democrat Ron Rothenbuhler. Only Irish was left in place. Husted has said he allowed Irish to stay because he was newest to the board and because he made attempts to implement suggestions made by the transparency committees.
Kaczala’s job was in danger as well, but Husted kept her as interim director. He said July 22 it would be up to the board whether she would remain in the position. No timeline was established for making that decision, but Kaczala said she believes the board will focus on the upcoming Aug. 5 special election first. Elections Services Manager LaVera Scott is serving as interim deputy director in place of Dan DeAngelis, who resigned.
Earlier this month, Husted approved the appointment of Hill, but rejected two Republican nominees, saying Kelly Bensman and Benjamin Roberts were too closely tied to the former board culture. Instead he appointed Wagoner, a lawyer, and Handwork, a retired judge, to fill the vacant positions.
A lawsuit is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse the rejected appointments, which were chosen during a meeting of the Lucas County Republican Party, chaired by removed BOE member Stainbrook.
If the court sides with the county GOP challenge, Husted said he will comply.
“We’ll certainly follow the court order, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the new board, this is the new day, this is the new start and this is the direction we’re going,” Husted said.
Husted said he looks forward to a smooth election season — and spending less time in Lucas County.
“This is not hard. It happens every day in 87 other counties with very little problem,” Husted said outside the meeting. “I’m sure that this new board will get things back on track.
“This is a new day in Lucas County and we’re excited to get it started.”