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Published: Wednesday, 4/24/2013

Elections panel OKs inquiry into harassment

Director intimidation alleged

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
The board voted to contract with the county's human resources department to investigate a harassment complaint against Director Meghan Gallagher, center, by her executive assistant, Gina Kaczala, both Republicans. The board voted to contract with the county's human resources department to investigate a harassment complaint against Director Meghan Gallagher, center, by her executive assistant, Gina Kaczala, both Republicans.
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The Lucas County Board of Elections split 3-1 on Tuesday on votes to prohibit employees or board members from secretly recording conversations and to ask the Lucas County personnel department to investigate an allegation of harassment in the office.

The secret recording measure, introduced by Democratic board member John Irish, prohibits recording of conversations without the knowledge of everyone present, as well as causing another person to listen to such a recording, with the violator subject to immediate termination.

Republican board member Jon Stainbrook cast the no vote, while Republican member Anthony DeGidio, Mr. Irish, and Democratic board member Ron Rothenbuhler voted yes.

Mr. Stainbrook objected that the policy can't be enforced, noting that a board member can be terminated only by the secretary of state. Mr. Irish didn't dispute the point, but said the rest of the policy is enforceable.

The board voted to contract with the county's human resources department to investigate a harassment complaint against Director Meghan Gallagher by her executive assistant, Gina Kaczala, both Republicans.

In a written complaint dated April 2, Ms. Kaczala said she was intimidated by Ms. Gallagher on Feb. 15.

She said Ms. Gallagher called her into her office, closed the door, and demanded to know the content of a conversation involving Ms. Kaczala; Keith Cunningham, the former “special master” assigned to the office when it was under oversight by Secretary of State Jon Husted, and James Ruvolo, a former board member who was appointed by Mr. Husted to evaluate the running of the county office.

Ms. Kaczala said Ms. Gallagher was “flailing her arms,” and Ms. Kaczala said she left the office in fear for her “personal well-being.”

The second incident was March 21 when she said Ms. Gallagher walked up behind where she was typing meeting minutes, pushed her to one side, and took the computer mouse from her hand, which she characterized as “physical assault.”

Ms. Gallagher's attorney, Jerome Phillips, said the complaint should not have been made public, but since it was, “we have already denied those allegations to the appropriate parties and will be providing documentary evidence to substantiate our position.”

Mr. Stainbrook objected that the county human resources department would conduct a biased investigation because of what he called a desire of the Democrats on the Lucas County Board of Commissioners to fire Ms. Gallagher.

“It's clear that several people have told you the county commissioners want Meghan Gallagher terminated so they can continue the Democratic Party control of Lucas County,” Mr. Stainbrook told Mr. Rothenbuhler. “It's a biased body.”

County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the elections board has the right in state law to select the personnel department for services any time it wants.

“The [human resources] staff is very professional, and if they are asked by the Board of Elections to be their agent, then that’s who their client is,” Mr. Gerken said.

Mr. Stainbrook said Mr. Irish broke a board policy of confidentiality by revealing the names in the harassment complaint to embarrass Ms. Gallagher.

“What Democrat John Irish did today was purely political showmanship. He publicly brought up these baseless and false allegations to intentionally defame and degrade the Republican director of the Lucas County Board of Elections,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

Mr. Irish said later that he didn't divulge the details of the complaint, only the names, to identify which personnel issue they were referring to the county agency, and denied he was out to defame and degrade the board's director.

“I felt strongly that the board needed to proceed with an investigation and Ron Rothenbuhler initially talked to the prosecutor’s office about it and they felt we should pursue another avenue to conduct the investigations. We as a board are not trained and prepared to handle these things so we needed a third party to look at it and the human resources department seemed like the best avenue to proceed,“ Mr. Irish said.

The Blade requested a copy of the complaint from Mr. Rothenbuhler, the board chairman, and it was provided.

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



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