COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today wasted little time following through with his plan to fire two members of the Putnam County Board of Elections once a hearing officer agreed the action was warranted.
Hearing officer Jon Allison agreed that Mr. Husted would be justified in removing Democrats Ann Dillinger and Martin Kuhlman from the board following repeated violations of Ohio’s open meeting and public records laws in 2008 and early 2009.
“While Sunshine Law violations were not the only improper acts conducted by this board of elections, it is clear that those violations were evidence sufficient to support removal from office,” wrote Mr. Allison in his recommendation to Mr. Husted.
Mr. Husted promptly issued the official order.
“…(T)here is perhaps no government function that demands openness and transparency more than the administration of elections,” Mr. Husted wrote. “The citizens of Ohio expect a government that is fair, responsive, and open, and, to maintain the public’s confidence in the electoral process, I demand the same.”
An assigned judge in Putnam County Common Pleas Court had awarded $5,000 in statutory damages and $31,400 in attorney fees to Jeremy Price, of Fort Jennings, after he sued over the violations.
The judge found that the board on 17 occasions failed to give proper notice about meetings, what was discussed at those meetings, and what happened behind closed doors during executive sessions. He described the violations as “egregious, repeated, and deprived the public of information that they were required to provide.”
Lyle McKanna and Marie Heitmeyer, the two Republicans on the board when the violations occurred in 2008 and 2009, are no longer members. Mr. Husted, also a Republican, has directed that they can never be reappointed.
In a hearing earlier this month, Ms. Dillinger and Mr. Kuhlman argued before Mr. Allison that the violations weren’t intentional and shouldn’t rise to the level warranting their firing. They noted that they were still under administrative oversight by Mr. Husted’s Democratic predecessor, Jennifer Brunner, at the time the violations occurred and no red flags were raised.
Ms. Brunner placed the board under oversight after what she characterized as the Election Day “meltdown” of voting machines during a 2008 special congressional election. The board was removed from oversight in March, 2009.
“From the records provided at hearing it is clear that Ms. Dillinger and Mr. Kuhlman have diligently worked with other board members and staff to improve the board’s operations and performance,” Mr. Allison wrote. “But even the most well operated public body has the obligation to operate openly and in conformance with the Sunshine Laws. As the record demonstrates, that obligation was not met on 17 occasions.”
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