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Published: Wednesday, 2/27/2013

State lifts oversight of elections board

Lucas County panel gets guidelines

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Jon Stainbrook, left, and Ron Rothenbuhler said employees must become more responsible. Jon Stainbrook, left, and Ron Rothenbuhler said employees must become more responsible.
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For the second time in two years, the Lucas County Board of Elections has been set free of oversight by the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, but with instructions to clean up its act.

A state report urges the immediate firing of Meghan Gallagher and Dan DeAngelis. A state report urges the immediate firing of Meghan Gallagher and Dan DeAngelis.
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One day after his two appointees issued a scathing report about the local board of elections, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted removed the local panel from his office's oversight.

“You have been provided with a road map to place the Lucas County Board of Elections on track. My office has provided you with all the tools and resources that we can reasonably provide,” Mr. Husted wrote in a letter delivered electronically on Tuesday morning.

He went on to advise the panel that the elections board’s “responsibility and accountability for the future” now rests with the two Democratic and two Republican board members.

The report, issued Monday by consultants Jonathan Allison of Columbus and James Ruvolo of Ottawa Hills, criticized the board as operating in a culture of “mistrust and paranoia” and lacking good management practices in personnel, record-keeping, budgeting, and asset inventory. The two consultants recommended the board immediately fire its top two staffers, Republican Director Meghan Gallagher, and Democratic Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis.

Mr. Husted’s letter did not allude to the consultants’ recommendations that the board fire Ms. Gallagher and Mr. DeAngelis.

And the board, which met Tuesday for its regular monthly meeting, took no action in response to that recommendation.

In their initial responses to the report on Monday, Republican board member Jon Stainbrook and Democratic board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler said removing the director and deputy director wouldn’t solve the board’s problems and added that the solution lies in getting the employees to be more responsible.

Attempting a move in that direction at the board’s meeting Tuesday, Mr. Stainbrook introduced a motion to fire all of the board’s staff except for the director and the deputy director and make them reapply for their jobs. The elections office has about 26 full-time employees.

The motion appeared to have Mr. Rothenbuhler’s backing. But after Republican board member Tony DeGidio and Democratic board member John Irish balked at the idea, the board went into recess. When the board reconvened a half hour later, Mr. Rothenbuhler announced that the motion would die for a lack of a second.

Mr. Irish said he was disturbed by some of the consultants’ charges, such as the board’s lack of control of its physical assets, including a laptop computer that disappeared in 2012; reports of board members dealing directly with lower-level employees, and mistrust in the office.

He said he wanted to see an updated organizational chart, a policy regarding board members talking to employees below the director and deputy director level, a progressive discipline policy, and a plan to address management of the board’s physical assets.

The report had highlighted the disappearance of a computer that cost the board $5,000 to replace lost software in another machine.

Mr. Stainbrook said the computer vanished last year when an office was cleared out to make room for the two “special masters” appointed by Mr. Husted. Mr. DeAngelis said an exhaustive inventory review is under way.

“I was willing to vote for all of the recommendations today,” Mr. Irish said. “As far as dismissals go, I’m going to hold off until I see what happens next meeting.”

Mr. Stainbrook also said the report made legitimate criticisms even though he disputed the accuracy of some of those claims. He vowed to “re-energize” an effort with the Lucas County Board of Commissioners to find a single building in which to consolidate all of the board's activities.

Mr. Stainbrook said he would present “new employee policies, procedures, and job descriptions at the next board meeting for the board’s review and approval.”

“The voters deserve that we, as a board, take swift action to address the issues presented in the consultants’ report. We must make necessary changes in policies and in some positions to ensure our elections are fair and accurate,” he said.

Mr. Husted in August put Ms. Gallagher and Mr. DeAngelis, who are each paid more than $80,000 a year, under the direct supervision of two “special masters” appointed by him and ordered them to check in each morning by phone with the secretary of state’s office. The intent of that was to get through the 2012 presidential election.

In taking control of the board last August, Mr. Husted said the board was failing to address two urgent situations: no location for the county’s early-vote center, and a vacancy in the information technology manager’s position. The board had deadlocked in 2-2 votes on both issues.

At the time, Mr. Husted said the board’s internal culture was “dysfunctional,” characterized by board members and staff refusing to communicate with each other, not unlike the conclusions of the report turned in Monday by Mr. Ruvolo and Mr. Allison.

Mr. Husted had the board under a less-onerous administrative oversight from March to November, 2011.

In addition, the board was under Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell’s administrative oversight from 2002 to 2006. And Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner offered the board “transitional support” during a tumultuous period in 2008.

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



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