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Lucas County elections board OKs policy to access employee emails

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Board chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, right, and Republican board member Jon Stainbrook, left, said they learned about critical emails sent to the Secretary of State's office when they visited with officials in Columbus.

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The Lucas County Board of Elections on Tuesday approved a policy that allows it to read all department employee emails, an action that takes effect immediately.

Board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, a Democrat, said the policy is needed because at least one employee has been sending emails to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office that have been critical of the board and department operations.

Mr. Rothenbuhler and Republican board member Jon Stainbrook said they learned about the emails during a meeting with Secretary of State officials in Columbus two weeks ago. They would not specify what the complaints were about.

“It was kind of disturbing,” said Mr. Rothenbuhler, adding that employee complaints should first be brought to the attention of the board. “Anything that happens in the office we should be aware of.”

The revelation comes at a time when the Lucas County Board of Elections is trying to convince state officials that it is capable of operating on its own.

The elections board — made up of two Democrats and two Republicans — long has been beset by partisan squabbling.

The fighting, which has focused on a variety of issues, including personnel, ballot security, and the time and location of early voting, became so bad that Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted on Aug. 13 imposed “special masters” to supervise the director, Republican Meghan Gallagher, and deputy director, Democrat Daniel DeAngelis.

Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Mr. Husted, said Tuesday that no decision has been made regarding how much longer the Lucas County agency will remain under the direct supervision of the state.

State officials were not aware of the board’s new email policy or the reasons behind it, he said.

Mr. Rothenbuhler declined to say if he knew who was sending the emails. But his comments during the elections board meeting prompted a brief, yet terse exchange with Mr. DeAngelis.

“I was told during the meeting [with state officials] that emails were sent by an employee,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said during board discussion of the email policy.

“Who told you that?” a visibly irate Mr. DeAngelis asked, interrupting Mr. Rothenbuhler.

When Mr. Rothenbuhler repeated that “Secretary of State officials” told him, Mr. DeAngelis demanded the name of the officials.

His question was ignored by Mr. Rothenbuhler.

Mr. DeAngelis did not return a call seeking additional comment.

Mr. Stainbrook said he is concerned because it appears someone is trying to undermine the board’s efforts to resolve problems.

“Unfortunately we have some discontented people trying to go around us,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

According to the policy, the board has the right to read employee emails, but not alter or edit them.

The policy was unanimously approved, but board member John Irish said he was concerned it could lead to some board members trying to second-guess administrator decisions.

“I don’t want to bypass the authority of the director and assistant director,” Mr. Irish said.

Mr. Stainbrook said employee email accounts should only be used for work-related purposes, not for sending personal or inappropriate materials.

The board did not indicate what is deemed “appropriate” email or what the punishment would be for violating the policy.

“I don’t have a problem with the policy,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

“The board’s job is to oversee the day-to-day activities of the office. Ron learned that people were going behind his back to the Secretary of State and he wants to see it.”

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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