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Published: 12/3/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Republicans leave meeting of elections board in protest

Dispute erupts over partisan division of agenda items

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Jon Stainbrook (left) and Tony DeGidio both left Friday's Lucas County Board of Elections meeting. Democratic member James Ruvolo (right) accused Stainbrook of putting an internal Republican personal dispute ahead of the public's business. Jon Stainbrook (left) and Tony DeGidio both left Friday's Lucas County Board of Elections meeting. Democratic member James Ruvolo (right) accused Stainbrook of putting an internal Republican personal dispute ahead of the public's business.
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Two Republicans, peeved about what they saw as Democratic attempts to control the Lucas County Board of Elections, walked out of the board’s meeting Friday, leaving the Democratic board members unable to take any action.

In one respect, the Republicans appeared to have made their point with the Democratic board chairman, Ron Rothenbuhler. Mr. Rothenbuhler said Friday afternoon he would make sure that Republicans have input into the board’s agenda in the future.

But the political divisions showed little sign of abating.

The dispute bubbled over Friday when Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio suddenly stood up, packed up their papers, and departed the board meeting room in Government Center.

As they left, Democratic member James Ruvolo asked, “Is this a boycott? So you’re not going to do your duties as board members?”

He accused Mr. Stainbrook of putting an internal Republican personnel dispute ahead of doing the public’s business.

Later, Mr. Stainbrook and Mr. DeGidio said they left because the board’s work was done, and the remaining three items on the agenda had not been put there properly.

“We executed every item on the agenda that we agreed to,” said Mr. DeGidio. “The meeting was over. They were functioning under an invalid agenda.”

The Republicans said the only item on the agenda they had agreed to was to reassign precincts according to state House and Senate districts. That measure passed 4-0.

Mr. Stainbrook and Mr. DeGidio have complained frequently in recent weeks that Mr. Rothenbuhler and the Democratic deputy director, Dan DeAngelis, have been setting the board’s agenda, refusing to add Republican issues to the agenda, and putting issues on the agenda that Republicans were not aware of.

In a meeting last week, Mr. Ruvolo and Mr. Rothenbuhler promised all issues brought before the board would have to be signed off on by both the Republican director, Ben Roberts, and Mr. DeAngelis.

But Mr. Stainbrook, Mr. DeGidio, and Mr. Roberts said they were blindsided by the agenda that emerged at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday and was emailed to the news media Thursday morning.

Mr. Roberts said the agenda was emailed 10 minutes after he left the office Wednesday, and he was out of the office Thursday and did not check his email account that day.

Mr. DeGidio produced a page from the Ohio Secretary of State’s “Election Official Manual for Ohio County Boards of Election” that said that the agenda is under Mr. Roberts’ job description.

Under “duties” of the director is the following: “Preparing the written agenda and minutes of board meetings.”

Mr. Rothenbuhler said he had not read that part of the manual and admitted he was mistaken in believing that the chairman of the board determines the agenda.

“I didn’t know that rule. They’re right. I thought I set the agenda. Obviously the director sets the agenda,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.

Mr. Ruvolo was not as convinced. “It’s a manual, not a law,” he said.

Mr. Rothenbuhler also vowed the agenda would be open for all four board members, the director, and the deputy director to add items during a 24-hour period before the agenda is released to the media. The board’s agenda must be distributed to the media at least 24 hours before the start of the meeting.

New districting

Ohio law sets up the elections board to be as politically balanced as possible, with a person of one party as board chairman and a person from the other party as staff director. In the case of tie votes between the two Republicans and two Democrats on the board, the question can be forwarded to the Secretary of State.

Although there have been several 2-2 tie votes, none has been forwarded to Secretary of State Jon Husted since Aug. 8.

Mr. Rothenbuhler’s attempt to resolve the agenda dispute did little to calm the waters after the abrupt end to the meeting.

Mr. Ruvolo made a point of asking the director, Mr. Roberts, to obtain a definition of “nonfeasance” from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Dictionaries define it as failure to perform an official duty.

The specific item Republicans refused to act on was to implement the new congressional districts that were adopted by the Ohio General Assembly.

There did not appear to be even agreement over the necessity of doing that. Mr. Ruvolo asserted the work should be done immediately, and Mr. Roberts said it could wait until the summer.

According to Election Manager Meghan Gallagher, the work of reassigning precincts won’t decide who votes where because that is determined by census tract.

Republicans said they were not ready to act on the congressional districts and contended that Mr. DeAngelis and Information Technology Supervisor Terry Kuhl have refused to include Ms. Gallagher in the discussions over realigning precincts.

Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Roberts said Mr. Kuhl had taken it upon himself to realign precincts.

Mr. Kuhl told the board that he was in a difficult situation because he has been given directly opposing direction at times by the director and the deputy director.

He said his paperwork is available for anyone who wants to see it.

Partisan tensions

It was obvious in the meeting that there was tension between Republicans Stainbrook, Roberts, and Gallagher on the one hand and on the other Mr. Kuhl, who is a holdover from the Republican faction that Mr. Stainbrook has sought to eradicate from the elections board. Mr. Roberts and Ms. Gallagher are close associates of Mr. Stainbrook.

Mr. Ruvolo accused Mr. Stainbrook of sowing “chaos” on the board of elections in order to settle an internal political dispute between him and Mr. Kuhl.

“We have a job to do here and their refusal to do it is all about internal politics,” Mr. Ruvolo said.

He said he wants to eliminate as many “split” precincts as possible to reduce the number of provisional ballots that get cast. Split precincts occur when some voters in a precinct are in one political jurisdiction, such as a House district or school board, and others are in a different jurisdiction.

Mr. Stainbrook denied Mr. Ruvolo’s charge and said it was Mr. Ruvolo who is sowing discord by refusing to respect the Republican contingent. He said there was no excuse for Ms. Gallagher to be excluded from realigning precincts because of her oversight of elections machines and polling places.

Local responsibility

Mr. Stainbrook said the Ohio Secretary of State has not issued a directive ordering the elections board to realign the precincts for the congressional districts.

“You’ve been on the board before and you don’t know this stuff,” he said to Mr. Ruvolo at one point.

“If the secretary of state said that we don’t have to do congressional re-precincting, then I will wait for guidance from the secretary of state that tells me what we have to do or do not have to do. It didn’t have to be done today,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

He accused Mr. Ruvolo of being fixated on the congressional district boundaries to help his wife, Jane Ruvolo, who works as an aide to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

Mr. Ruvolo said in a later interview that was “laughable,” and that Miss Kaptur had nothing inappropriate to gain by the board doing its job to put voters in the correct congressional districts.

“We’re not drawing a congressional district that helps Marcy Kaptur. We do not draw the congressional lines. The legislature does,” Mr. Ruvolo said.

“I figured he’d find a way to drag my wife into it, but that’s Jon; he’s just scum,” Mr. Ruvolo said.

Mr. Stainbrook brushed off the name-calling and said Mr. Ruvolo should abstain from discussions that involve the congressional districts because of his wife’s employment in Miss Kaptur’s office.

“It draws into question how impartial he can be when he’s voting on congressional districts. It really draws into question his integrity,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

The Blade submitted a request for an interview to the office of Mr. Husted but was told Mr. Husted would not be available.

In October, Mr. Husted dropped the Lucas County elections board from administrative oversight, saying it was up to board members to work out their differences.

Mr. Husted’s spokesman, Matthew McClellan, reiterated that point in an email Friday.

He said setting the agendas “is a local issue for which boards are responsible.

“There is a requirement in statute that boards must develop meeting policies, which are further outlined in Ohio Sunshine Law,” Mr. McClellan said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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