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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2013

Ex-member co-writing elections board report

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A report commissioned by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office on the fractious Lucas County Board of Elections is being co-written by Lucas County political honcho Jim Ruvolo, who was a member of the board during some of its fractiousness.

That report is expected to be released “very soon,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said Wednesday during a meeting with The Blade’s editorial board.

Mr. Husted ordered the report Aug. 13 when he put the Lucas County elections board under direct oversight because of its “dysfunctional” operations and because he was concerned about the ability of the board to conduct the upcoming 2012 presidential election.

At the time, Mr. Husted said the board’s dysfunction had been occurring through his term as secretary of state, and he couldn’t allow it anymore.

“The underlying operational culture is divisive and threatening. Board members and staff refuse to communicate with others resulting in meetings and conversations that dissolve into worse than stalemate,” Mr. Husted wrote.

The two people assigned to write the report were Republican Columbus attorney Jonathan Allison and Mr. Ruvolo of Ottawa Hills, a political consultant and former Ohio and Lucas County Democratic chairman. They are being paid $7,500 each, with Mr. Allison getting an additional $1,000 for his travel from Columbus to Toledo.

Mr. Ruvolo was a Democratic member of the election board from October, 2011, to January, 2012. He resigned saying he could no longer spare time from his business.

Mr. Husted said Wednesday that he did not regard Mr. Ruvolo as having a conflict of interest.

“I think it was a good mix of somebody who had connection to the election issues and somebody who had election experience who wasn’t connected to the issues,” Mr. Husted said. He said both appointments could be criticized — Mr. Allison for not having background in the situation in Lucas County and Mr. Ruvolo for having too much.

“I think the two of them together represent a balance of that point of view,” Mr. Husted said.

He said Mr. Ruvolo was recommended by his staff.

“I was not involved in that selection process. They brought me the two names and I approved,” Mr. Husted said.

“We asked them to go in and dig in and come up with a bipartisan review ... and to make recommendations,” Mr. Husted said.

Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said in a later interview that both appointees have years of experience in public service and stellar careers.

“We’re very confident in the capabilities of Ruvolo and Allison to conduct the review and then provide a report to us,” Mr. McClellan said.

Ron Rothenbuhler, Democratic Lucas County chairman and chairman of the elections board, said, “certainly he and [Lucas County Republican Chairman] Jon Stainbrook had a very contentious relationship; whether that was a conflict of interest, I don’t know.”

Mr. Stainbrook declined to comment.

The consultants, as described in Mr. Husted’s letter of Aug. 13, are to report on policies and procedures and recommend organizational and personnel solutions for the elections board. They were not to assign blame, but instead point the way forward. The consultants were initially expected to complete their report by Dec. 31.

Mr. Allison was a legislative counsel and communications director for three years when Bob Taft was secretary of state and was his chief of staff when Mr. Taft was governor. Mr. Allison practices public policy and government regulation law for the Columbus law firm of Carpenter Lipps & Leland LLP.

He and Mr. Ruvolo declined to reveal details of their investigation, conclusions, or recommendations. Asked if Mr. Ruvolo had a conflict in investigating and evaluating a board of which he was a member, Mr. Allison declined to give an opinion.

“I have a lot of respect for Jim as a professional, and I think he has been a very reasonable person to work with and you will see that through the quality of the report that we produce,” Mr. Allison said.

During his tenure, Mr. Ruvolo crossed swords repeatedly with Republican board member Mr. Stainbrook, who is still on the elections board. Among the issues that were disputed while Mr. Ruvolo was on the board was the working relationship of the Republican director, Meghan Gallagher, and the Democratic deputy director, Dan DeAngelis.

The board also disputed whether the board’s chairman, Mr. Rothenbuhler, set the agenda by himself or whether the agenda should be set in consultation with Republicans.

The daily oversight ended when the 2012 election counting was done. On Jan. 29, Matt Damschroder, deputy assistant secretary of state, announced that Republican Director Ms. Gallagher and Democratic Deputy Director Mr. DeAngelis were restored to their previous duties, but are required to continue to check in with the Secretary of State’s office weekly.

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



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