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BOE Matt Damschroder Lucas County Board of Elections member Jon Stainbrook, left, sits before the committee including Matt Damschroder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State / Director of Elections at Ohio Secretary of State, right.
Lucas County Board of Elections member Jon Stainbrook, left, sits before the committee including Matt Damschroder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State / Director of Elections at Ohio Secretary of State, right.
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Published: Friday, 5/16/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

LUCAS COUNTY

Elections officials make pleas to remain on board

3 refuse panel’s request to resign

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Jennifer Brunner, left, reads a letter from Anthony DiGidio to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Scott Borgemenke, right, reacts during the hearings for fired board of elections board members and staff at One Government Center on May 15, 2014. Jennifer Brunner, left, reads a letter from Anthony DiGidio to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Scott Borgemenke, right, reacts during the hearings for fired board of elections board members and staff at One Government Center on May 15, 2014.
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Scott Borgemenke, an investigator appointed by Secretary of State Jon Husted to try to unravel the tangled stories of dysfunction and petty bickering in the Lucas County Board of Elections, despaired Thursday of that ever happening.

“We’ll never untangle this ball of yarn,” a frustrated Mr. Borgemenke said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos from the hearing

Mr. Borgemenke’s penchant for colorful metaphors helped enliven a daylong hearing in which four top officials of the Lucas County Board of Elections sought to defend against their threatened removal from the board by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Threatened with firing are Republican elections board members Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio and Democratic board member Ron Rothenbuhler and Republican staff director Gina Kaczala. The Democratic deputy director, Dan DeAngelis, tendered his resignation Wednesday after Mr. Husted recommended his removal and did not attend.

The Republican secretary of state, who is Ohio’s top elections official, on Monday announced he was starting the process of removing the five officials under a law that allows him to remove elections officials for “misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and neglect of duty.”

The four remaining appeared to make little headway with the four members of a blue-ribbon “transparency committee” appointed by Mr. Husted, who also attended the hearing, which was led by a hearing officer, Matt Damschroder, deputy assistant secretary of state.

Gina Kaczala, with her attorney Paul Belazis, tries to convince the panel to give her another chance because she only became staff director on March 4. Gina Kaczala, with her attorney Paul Belazis, tries to convince the panel to give her another chance because she only became staff director on March 4.
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Repeatedly Mr. Borgemenke, who chaired the transparency committee, asked the three board members to resign, which all three refused to do immediately.

And at least three of the transparency committee members said that while they sympathized with Ms. Kaczala’s difficult situation in ascending to staff director on March 4, they believed she should be removed so a new elections board can appoint its own top staff.

Mr. Damschroder, who said he is a second cousin once-removed of state Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), said he will file a report and make a recommendation to Mr. Husted, who, in turn, will make the final call on removing board of elections employees.

The “transparency committee” appointed by Mr. Husted held four hearings into complaints about behavior, computer tampering, sick-leave abuse, incompetence, and other issues before recommending the dismissals on Friday.

Their findings followed a chaotic election night in which Lucas County was the last in the state to report 100 percent of its precincts, though board members and employees pointed to a correct vote count despite the late hour.

Committee members pointed to a variety of failings by the board in the course of the hearing but did not specify the misbehavior or wrongdoing by a board member and Ms. Kaczala that was the basis for their firing. That did not sit well with the targeted officials who questioned how they could defend themselves against a general criticism that covered several years of elections board activity.

Chairman Scott Borgemenke, right, responds to a question at hearings for county board of elections members and staff, alongside Jennifer Brunner. He eventually said, ‘We’ll never untangle this ball of yarn.’ Chairman Scott Borgemenke, right, responds to a question at hearings for county board of elections members and staff, alongside Jennifer Brunner. He eventually said, ‘We’ll never untangle this ball of yarn.’
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Mr. DeGidio was the most vocal in pushing blame, accusing Mr. Stainbrook of trying to sabotage the May 6 election, and of being responsible, with former Director Meghan Gallagher, for 90 percent of the board’s problems during his tenure there.

He also accused Mr. Husted in a strongly worded letter, which was read into the record, of “conspiring with” and protecting Mr. Stainbrook.

“He [Mr. Husted] deserves some of the blame,” Mr. DeGidio said.

Mr. Stainbrook said he would resign if Mr. Husted would make a clean sweep of the board. However, Mr. Husted has not recommended the removal of the fourth board member, Democrat John Irish.

Ms. Kaczala brought a lawyer, Paul Belazis, to the hearing, and he argued her plea to stay in office because she had only been appointed on March 4.

The members of the transparency committee are Democratic political consultant James Ruvolo of Ottawa Hills, Jon Allison and Mr. Borgemenke of Columbus, former Republican assistant secretaries of state, and Jennifer Brunner, former Democratic secretary of state.

The hearing covered many of the issues raised in four previous meetings of the transparency committee.

“The Lucas County Board of Elections is a place where people create storms and then get upset when it starts raining,” Mr. Borgemenke said. “Nobody’s going to take responsibility for anything, and that’s why this across-the-board action was taken.

“The whole damn thing’s bad,” Mr. Borgemenke said. “You can’t blame the soup on too many onions.”

One of the transparency committee’s complaints was that the three board members failed to support Mr. Irish when he made a motion in early 2013 to implement the Ruvolo-Allison report, which called for firing Ms. Gallagher and Mr. DeAngelis.

Among the criticisms of the transparency committee was that the board failed for two years to refer flawed campaign finance reports to the Ohio Elections Commission.

“Mr. Rothenbuhler is just too busy or asleep at the wheel, and this board of elections can’t operate that way,” Mr. Borgemenke said, while also calling him a man of integrity.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.



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