Protesters, former employees question validity of BOEWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
State-mandated rules have tightened at the Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE) as two “special masters” from the Secretary of State’s office move in to monitor daily operations. At the same time, protesters seeking to toss the whole board are assembling and former employees are starting to talk.
“What occurred (during the primaries) was a disastrous election and we’ve got a presidential election coming up and we’ve seen little to no improvement,” said Ed Feeny, who worked for the board for eight months. “I expect the next one will be worse.”
The primaries left at least 70 voters with the wrong ballots.
Secretary of State Jon Husted placed the board under administrative oversight this week. According to a letter sent to the board Aug. 13, Husted is assigning a “special master” outside election administrator for each party to oversee daily operations. The Special Masters will stay until the results of the November election are complete. 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 on-site at least two days a week. Husted will task a bipartisan election administration with compiling a report analyzing the policies, procedures and recommendations of the BOE 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’ proposed organizational chart had met a tie vote. Husted ordered that the board come to an agreement on the subject and define the director and deputy director roles.
This was one of many tie-votes that Husted has had to address. He has broken at least a dozen ties for the board this year.
“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.
Ignited by Husted’s words, about a dozen protesters outside One Government Center waved signs and shouted “Reform the board.” on Aug. 14. The group, led by the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, attended the BOE meeting that immediately followed.
They were forced to leave.
John McAvoy, a board member of the coalition, planned to read a letter before the board thanking Husted for stepping in.
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 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 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.”
Among the attendees were Dennis Lange and Ida Hartfield, two employees fired by the board within the past 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.
“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,” McAvoy said.
A portion of the Ohio Revised Code enables the Secretary of State to remove or suspend any board member, director or deputy director for neglect of duty, malfeasance or any willful violation of election law.
Not the first time
The Lucas County Board of Elections is the only board in the state that Husted has placed under administrative oversight, said Matt McClellan, Husted’s spokesperson.
This is the board’s second time in that position in the past couple of years.
Rothenbuhler said Husted’s latest move was a necessary step to resolve problems that the board has been unable to fix internally.
“There’s so many issues, I have a hard time prioritizing those that are real problems,” he said.
He said the first step toward progress should be to secure an early vote center that is accessible to voters who do not have cars. Board members could not agree on a site during a meeting last week.
He said the next priority should be to find a building where all of the BOE offices can store records.
Voters can depend on fair elections in the fall, McClellan said.
“With everything going on up there, we’re confident that voters will have a good election come November,” McClellan said.
‘Hey, any interest in becoming a Republican?’
Within the past year, a director and two board members resigned, at least three full-time employees quit and four were fired. Since firing the information technology manager, the board has yet to find a replacement. Tim Ide, who worked for the board for almost a year, was not fired. He just stopped going in.
“I could do whatever I wanted,” Ide said. “They referred to me numerous times and to other people: ‘He’s a time bomb, he’s a time bomb. We can’t hire him, we can’t fire him, what do we do with him?’ I wish I had a dollar for every time Jon Stainbrook came to me and said, ‘Don’t f*** me, man.’”
Ide ended up telling his secret. In a letter he sent to the entire board and to media outlets, Ide wrote that Republican BOE member Stainbrook and BOE Director Gallagher took him to lunch at San Marcos Taqueria and asked him to set up a laptop computer in the director’s office to recruit his Facebook friends to join the Stainbrook faction of the Lucas County Republican Party, on county time.
Ide said he said no.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, Jon — what are you doing? Why did you say that? That is a felony right there and now I’ve got to live with this.’ I have to walk around going, ‘I’ve got the goods on felony activity going on’,” Ide said. “Pay you to do Republican party business on the clock — that’s illegal. They wanted to set me up in their office and ask my Facebook friends, ‘Hey, any interest in becoming a Republican?’”
Rothenbuhler forwarded Ide’s letter to the Secretary of State’s office to seek advice on the matter. McClellan said staff from the office visited both former and current board employees, including Ide, to dicuss a gamut of problems. Ide’s letter was one piece of that.
Gallagher declined to comment. Stainbrook did not return several messages seeking comment.
Stainbrook stated at the Aug. 14 meeting that Ide was an employee of Toledo Free Press, but Ide and Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller both said Ide was never employed by Toledo Free Press nor did he ever contribute to the newspaper.
Election Administration Plan
During the course of the year that Ide worked at the BOE, he scrutinized documents and fact-checked data. He found discrepancies in the Election Administration Plan (EAP).
An EAP is 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.
Both Feeny and Ide said parts of the January EAP are copied and pasted from old ones and include false information. Toledo Free Press verified with DeAngelis that backup discs of data were not stored at a warehouse on Berdan Avenue in January, as the January EAP’s emergency preparedness plan documented. Ide provided the document.
This is a small detail that has been fixed and had no bearing on the primary election, DeAngelis said.
“It was a lot of our first EAP and I’m not saying that’s an excuse,” he said. “Why cry over spilled milk? We have a new EAP that doesn’t have that has been fixed.”
Toledo Free Press requested the latest revised version but had not received the document by press time.
“I would like to make sure that we have a building where all the records can be stored,” Rothenbuhler said. “A lot of our stuff is strung all over the place and it makes it difficult to secure the records, to obtain them when necessary.”
Tom Morgan, another employee who quit, said he couldn’t stand the “partisan atmosphere.” Morgan, Feeny and Ide all said the director told them they were forbidden to talk to DeAngelis. Morgan said he didn’t want to anyway, because he considered DeAngelis a contributor to the partisan attitude.
Ide also pointed out a couple of mis-numbered Ohio Revised Code references in an employee manual.
“I think it does matter if it’s wrong — this is the election,” Ide said. “If it’s wrong, fix it. Every mistake counts.”
Out of a job
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 certificate.
“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.”
Tags: Dan DeAngelis, Dennis Lange, Ed Feeny, Ida Hartfield, John McAvoy, Jon Husted, Jon Stainbrook, League of Women Voters, Lucas County, Lucas County Board of Elections, Megan Gallagher, Ron Rothenbuhler, Tim Ide, Tom Morgan