Consultants recommend firings at Lucas County Board of Elections

2/25/2013
BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim Ruvolo, left, and Jon Allison, who were appointed by Secretary of State Jon Husted as consultants to review the Lucas County Board of Elections make their recommendations public during a news conference at One Government Center.
Jim Ruvolo, left, and Jon Allison, who were appointed by Secretary of State Jon Husted as consultants to review the Lucas County Board of Elections make their recommendations public during a news conference at One Government Center.

Two appointees of the Ohio Secretary of State issued a report today sharply criticizing the management practices of the Lucas County Board of Elections and recommending the board fire its two top staffers, but in an ironic show of bipartisan unity two Democratic and Republican board members said that's not going to happen.

Republican board member Jon Stainbrook said many of the claims made in the report aren't true, but he also said, "90 percent of what's in this report we agree with."

Ron Rothenbuhler, a Democrat and the chairman of the four-person board, said, "we’re going to get together and develop a response to their suggestions and see where we can make the appropriate moves to improve the board of elections. And the employees need to share in the resolution and not be part of the problem."

The 10-page report was released in a news conference Monday in Government Center. It blasts the board of elections' management procedures, saying the board lacks established policies and operates in a culture of "paranoia." It also recommends firing Republican Director Meghan Gallagher and Democrat Dan DeAngelis and replacing them by May 1.

"We conclude that the Lucas County Board of Elections as presently situated is devoid of management leadership, is without most of the basic organizational structure, policies, and procedures necessary to function as an accountable government entity, and is culturally plagued by mistrust and fear," the two consultants wrote.

Democratic party chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, left, and Republican party chairman Jon Stainbrook, both members of the Lucas County Board of Elections, listen as Mr. Ruvolo and Mr. Allison  recommend the removal of the director and deputy director of the Board of Elections.
Democratic party chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, left, and Republican party chairman Jon Stainbrook, both members of the Lucas County Board of Elections, listen as Mr. Ruvolo and Mr. Allison recommend the removal of the director and deputy director of the Board of Elections.

Consultants Jim Ruvolo, a Democrat and former Ohio and Lucas County Democratic chairman from Ottawa Hills, and Jonathan Allison, a Republican lawyer from Columbus and top aide to former Gov. Bob Taft, were assigned to evaluate the board's day-to-day operations by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. He put the board under administrative oversight in August, 2012.

Ms. Gallagher, a longtime friend of Mr. Stainbrook and former elections worker, became director in March, 2012, after the former director, Republican Ben Roberts quit, after a tenure of less than one year. Mr. Roberts and Mr. DeAngelis were both appointed when a previous director-deputy director team, Democrat Linda Howe and Republican Jeremy Demagall, were ordered fired by Mr. Husted over their noncompliance with his instructions on counting provisional ballots.

Mr. Ruvolo's recent involvement in the board of elections raised the question of whether he could be objective. He was appointed to the board in October, 2011, and resigned in January, 2012, a period when some of the episodes occurred that resulted in the board being brought under oversight. Mr. Ruvolo said it was a "fair question," but said he thought it was important for him to participate.

"I didn’t volunteer for this. This wasn’t self-appointing. I knew there would be questions about my impartiality. Quite frankly this is too important. That’s why I accepted," he said.

Mr. Allison was chief of staff for Republican former Gov. Bob Taft and is a partner in the firm of Carpenter Lipps & Leland LLP. Law partner Dave Leland is, like Mr. Ruvolo, a former Ohio Democratic Party chairman. Mr. Allison said he had no conversation with Mr. Leland about the Lucas County assignment and defended his Republican credentials.

Mr. Husted told The Blade today that he was heartened by Mr. Stainbrook's agreement with 90 percent of the report.

"These are respected, talented officials and we should stop focusing on the messenger and focus on the message," Mr. Husted said. "If they do agree with 90 percent of what’s in the report that’s a great start. I was encouraged by that comment."

The report calls for the adoption of new policies and procedures by Aug. 1.

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