An Ohio appeals court may have barred the Lucas County Board of Elections from holding a hearing about whether to decertify Toledo Councilman Lindsay Webb's candidacy, but that didn't stop Republican board members from grilling election staffers about the issue.
During a tense meeting Wednesday, the four-person board's two Republicans, Tony DeGidio and Jon Stainbrook, asked election workers to explain why they didn't notify the board or its director that Ms. Webb had missed a filing deadline to accept her candidacy. Because they didn't notify the board, it certified Ms. Webb's candidacy and ballots were printed.
The three workers -- one of whom had her lawyer present -- said they relied on a former election board director's instructions, which were that the board didn't contest late nomination acceptances.
The board's Democrats, Ron Rothenbuhler and Rita Clark, criticized the Republican questioning.
"I feel like there is a siege here," Mr. Rothenbuhler said. "[The staff members] feel like they're being harassed."
As a result, it's difficult for them to do their jobs well, he said.
Two Democratic staffers -- Paula Lykowski and Dan DeAngelis -- along with one GOP staffer, Mary Mikesell, were interviewed about how they handled the late letter received from Councilman Webb. Ms. Mikesell, the daughter of Toledo City GOP Councilman Rob Ludeman, refused to answer questions from the GOP members of the board based on advice from her lawyer, who was present at the meeting.
The Republicans defended their questioning, saying they had to investigate in a public forum to provide transparency about the election board's operations.
"It's hard for us to get to the bottom of this when one of the employees who handled Ms. Webb's paperwork has a lawyer and refuses to answer our questions," Mr. Stainbrook said after the meeting. "It's our duty to look into these problems."
In the end, the board members agreed that the election office's policies needed to be clearer.
"I haven't seen anything that suggests incompetency," Mr. DeGidio said. "There was no policy in place."
At one point during the meeting, Ms. Webb's lawyer, Keith Wilkowski, objected to the proceeding, calling it "a Star Chamber inquisition."
Originally, a hearing about whether to decertify Ms. Webb's candidacy was scheduled, but an Ohio appeals court ordered the board of elections Wednesday morning to cancel it. The court's decision calls for the election board to respond to Ms. Webb's argument that the protest filed by Republican Douglas DeCamp, one of her opponents in the Sept. 13 primary, was submitted after the deadline for protests.
Ms. Webb also contended in court filings that the requirement in the city charter for a candidate to respond with a letter to the elections board accepting his or her nomination within five days requires only "substantial compliance."
The court set a deadline of 4 p.m. Monday for the elections board to respond. Judges in the case were Stephen A. Yarbrough, Patrick T. Dinkelacker, and Mary Jane Trapp.
One ongoing question in the case has been whether Ms. Webb filed on time. In a letter to the board last week, her attorney wrote that Ms. Webb "deposited her acceptance into the United States mail on the day she filled it out, July 28, 2011."
If true, that would fall within the five-day period the city charter gives for candidates to accept their nomination.
She also told The Blade last week that she mailed the document from her office in Ann Arbor and that the mail would have been routed through Detroit.
But Wednesday, The Blade obtained a copy of the envelope in which Ms. Webb mailed her response. It is postmarked Aug. 3 in a Toledo area Zip code.
"It's not like I was intentionally trying to mislead," she said last night. "I'm acknowledging there's a possibility that what I recalled is not what happened."
She said she remembers signing her letter in her Ann Arbor office, and that she usually deposits her mail in a mailbox outside the office when she leaves.
"To the best of my recollection that's what happened, but the facts are the facts," she said. "It's really not the issue. The real issue is whether in the middle of an election my name should be taken off the ballot. The question is whether I substantially complied with the charter."
Contact Tony Cook at: email@example.com or 419-724-6065.