Jon Stainbrook, in his new role on the Lucas County Board of Elections, was stymied Friday in an attempt to clean house by removing office staffers.
A discussion on termination of employees was included on the agenda for a special meeting of the board, on a day it ruled three would-be candidates could not legally appear on the ballot.
After a lengthy executive session, the board tabled the employee termination issue until the next regular meeting.
Board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, a Democrat, declined to say how many or identify any of the employees whose jobs were discussed in the executive session. Asked to identify them generally, he said it was “several people that have had some issues with the Republican chairman,” referring to Mr. Stainbrook.
Disciplining or firing employees requires a majority vote of the board, which is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. Mr. Rothenbuhler wouldn’t go into specifics of the closed-door discussions but said “there was not an agreement in regard to the issues or the people that were named.”
Mr. Stainbrook, a Republican, confirmed he was planning to terminate certain employees, but said the board’s Democrats would not allow it.
“We went through all of this for over three years to clean up the Board of Elections, and the Democrat board members will not let us,” he said. “These are the same Democrats — Ron Rothenbuhler and Rita Clark — who were on the Board of Elections for overseeing the [George] Sarantou election. They don’t have a good track record to begin with, and we’re in here trying to work with them and they don’t want that to happen.”
In March, Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered the Lucas County Board of Elections to fire its director and deputy director over their handling of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct but at the right polling place because of poll worker error. Some of those ballots ended up among the provisional ballots that helped Carol Contrada, a Democrat, defeat Mr. Sarantou in a race for county commissioner. The shake-up continued with both Republican board members — Ben Marsh and then-Chairman John Kriner — resigning in May within 10 days of each other.
Responding to the assertion that Democrats wouldn’t play ball with Republicans to dump certain employees, Mr. Rothenbuhler said now isn’t the time to have turnover.
“I guess that’s true in his eyes,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said. “In my eyes, I look at it that I want to make sure when we talk about employees’ performance or lack of performance, we’re not going to leave ourselves shorthanded for the election. You’ve got an election coming, you’ve got everyone in turmoil ... you can’t get work done by upsetting the apple cart right before you have an important job to do, whether it’s a construction project or an election.”
One of the reasons Mr. Stainbrook cited for wanting to replace staff members was a lack of preparation going into the upcoming general election. He said employees haven’t started recruiting or training poll workers.
Neither Mr. Stainbrook nor Mr. Rothenbuhler could say how many poll workers were ready for the election.
“I do know one of his problems was there wasn’t enough Republican poll workers,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said. “Democrat-wise, we’re doing OK.”
Voting before Anthony DeGidio arrived at the meeting, the board decided 3-0 to decertify Republican Neal Mahoney, a sitting Sylvania Township trustee, for the November ballot. The vote also rejected the petitions of Democrat John Coble, a political newcomer seeking a seat as a a Toledo Municipal Court Judge, and independent Dan Angel, seeking the District 3 seat on Toledo City Council.
They were knocked out of their races because of a directive from Mr. Husted that candidates cannot withdraw petitions and refile for the same office in the same election.
Mr. Mahoney withdrew because a date was wrong on his petitions, refiled, and was certified. Both Mr. Angel and Mr. Coble withdrew because of too few valid petition signatures and then refiled.
The three were advised at the time they could withdraw and refile under Ohio election law. Mr. Husted has since issued a directive saying that although that formerly was the office’s position, a review of case law found candidates could not do that.
Mr. Mahoney and Mr. Coble said they intend to challenge the ruling in the Ohio Supreme Court and remain confident their names will appear on the ballot.
“From my perspective, the law hasn’t changed, only the secretary of state’s mind has changed,” Mr. Coble said.
Mr. Angel said he has retained a lawyer and together they are evaluating his chances of winning an appeal.
“We’re not going to spend the money if we don’t have the case. If we have a chance of winning it, we probably would spend the money,” he said.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.