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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2008

GOP chief's friend sues election panel for public records

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Bensman Bensman
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A close associate of new Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook filed suit yesterday demanding release of public records from the Lucas County Board of Elections that she said were denied her during Mr. Stainbrook's contentious run for party chairman.

The suit is yet another salvo in the battle between Mr. Stainbrook and the board of elections, whose two Republican directors he has asked to resign.

Kelly Bensman, a friend of Mr. Stainbrook who helped him by monitoring the board of elections' handling of the central committee elections on March 4, said the suit filed yesterday was her own project.

"This is me. I'm not on the [Lucas County Republican Party] Central Committee. I did this on my own," Ms. Bensman said.

The complaint, known as a writ of mandamus, was filed with the Lucas County 6th District Court of Appeals.

It requests numerous records, including the identification envelopes of absentee voters who were recorded as not having voted, all campaign finance reports filed by the Lucas County Republican Party, and copies of all e-mails to and from six top board employees from Jan. 1 through April 30.

Ms. Bensman, 31, who is a hydrogeologist for an environmental consulting firm, said she wants a ruling from the appeals court that the elections board did not comply with the state's open records law.

"They need to be held accountable for when they deny people public records," Ms. Bensman said.

Jill Kelly, the deputy director, and John Borell, assistant Lucas County prosecutor, declined to comment on the writ of mandamus.

Mr. Stainbrook said a box of records found at Lucas County Republican Party headquarters after he defeated Chairman Bob Reichert on June 14 showed the elections board gave party officials public records withheld from Ms. Bensman.

He said the box, found behind the desk of former Lucas County GOP Executive Director Joanne Wack, had a handwritten label, "Kelly Bensman's records request," and contained records Ms. Bensman had sought.

"Those are not the same set of records that Kelly Bensman got," Mr. Stainbrook said. "The box of records we discovered at party headquarters is the smoking gun."

He said the records found at GOP headquarters were evidence that the objective of Republican board members Lynn Olman and Patrick Kriner and Republican officials at the election office were working not for the voters but "to preserve the status quo at the Lucas Country Republican Party."

Board officials and board members have denied playing favorites in the intraparty wrangle that led to Mr. Stainbrook's election.

Ms. Wack agreed she had a box of records behind her desk, but that it was of records she had requested - the voting histories of all the Republican central committee candidates in the March 4 primary.

"There was no paper on top saying 'Kelly Bensman's records request,' " Ms. Wack said.

Ms. Kelly, the Republican deputy director at the elections board, denied that she funneled information to the party to undermine Mr. Stainbrook's candidacy for chairman.

"I don't know what they're talking about, but I will tell you right now that I certainly didn't give Joanne Wack anything that was supposed to be given to Kelly Bensman," Ms. Kelly said.

Mr. Stainbrook has photographs of a pink sheet of paper that was clipped to a stack of records saying "Kelly Bensman's request," and then identifying 13 precincts for which she had requested information.

Ms. Bensman said the box also contained a copy of the e-mail she had sent to a board employee requesting the details on the 13 precincts, including copies of poll worker record books, which he says proves that information was being supplied to the Republican Party from inside the board.

"Why would they give her a printed copy of my e-mail," Ms. Bensman said.

Shortly after his election as chairman, Mr. Stainbrook requested that Mr. Olman and Mr. Kriner resign because he said he lost confidence in their leadership.

Both have refused to step down, saying they have done nothing wrong and that the county's elections have improved during their service.

Mr. Stainbrook disagreed.

"They have used the board of elections as a political weapon to influence who controls the party, and that's why they've got to go," he said.

"While on county time, using public resources and public records, they worked to maintain the party and not to best serve the citizenry.

"We can't have the operations of the board of elections held in secret anymore. We cannot allow, especially in a presidential election year, the board of elections to be anything but transparent," the county GOP chairman said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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