Tony DeGidio, left, Ron Rothenbuhler, Jon Stainbrook, and John Irish attend a special meeting with the secretary of state’s transparency committee over Tuesday’s election at One Government Center in Toledo.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
The transparency committee appointed by Secretary of State Jon Husted to investigate the dysfunctional Lucas County Board of Elections on Friday recommended a nearly wholesale housecleaning, sparing only John Irish.
Under the committee’s recommendation, Democratic board member Ron Rothenbuhler and Republican members Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio would be removed from the board, along with Republican Director Gina Kaczala and Democratic Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis.
Committee chairman Scott Borgemenke, a former Republican assistant secretary of state, announced the recommendations at the end of a six-hour hearing — the fourth convened in the last month.
The committee also recommended a full retraining of the staff.
With Mr. Borgemenke were committee members Jennifer Brunner, a Democratic former secretary of state, and Democratic political consultant James Ruvolo of Ottawa Hills. Committee member and Republican Columbus lawyer Jon Allison was absent but participated in a half-hour private deliberation by phone, Mr. Borgemenke said.
Mr. Borgemenke recounted previous attempts by Mr. Husted to harmonize the fractious Lucas County board but said the accusations of wrongdoing, which never get fully investigated, and the public squabbling have only increased.
“We’re not confirming or denying the accusations because we couldn’t figure it out,” he said. “I think everyone will say, ‘the pattern of behavior continues.’ I think the board has been part of this problem, some of it by intent and actions, some of it by absolute total neglect.”
Mr. Stainbrook, the Lucas County Republican chairman, said he would accept his removal from the board if Mr. Husted thought it would restore public confidence, but he objected to Mr. Irish being retained.
“I agree that this election process is about the voters of Lucas County. It has to be transparent. It has to be honest. Whenever there are results that took as long as they did this past primary night, there had to be steps taken where he can have a new board of elections that the voters can have confidence in,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “It was a privilege to serve on this board, but if this is one of the steps that needs to be taken by the secretary of state to make sure the board of elections is going to run smoothly, I am all for the recommendation.”
Mr. Stainbrook said he expected the whole board to be removed. A spokesman for Mr. Husted said late Friday that he did not know when the secretary of state would decide whether to carry out the recommendations of his transparency committee.
“I’m completely perplexed why they kept Mr. Irish on the board because it was clear, you can see from the video, he was one of the aggressors [on] election night,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Mr. Rothenbuhler took his recommended removal in stride.
“If [Mr. Husted] does follow it, I have no regrets,” he said. “I did the best I could to set a pattern of a gentlemanlike attitude on this board with the employees and obviously didn’t get through.”
Ms. Kaczala, who was promoted from board secretary to director on March 4, said she will appeal directly to Mr. Husted to save her job.
“I respect the transparency committee, but being director for two months I haven’t been given a fair shot,” she said.
Mr. DeAngelis and Mr. DeGidio were not immediately available for comment. All four board members and the two directors sat through and participated in the six-hour hearing before learning of their fate.
Mr. Borgemenke said Mr. Irish had not been “a huge part of the culture.”
However, Mr. Irish may be benefiting from his previous willingness to implement Mr. Husted’s recommendations. In March, 2013, Mr. Irish made a motion to implement a previous Husted recommendation to the board that they fire then-Director Meghan Gallagher as well as Mr. DeAngelis, and he received no second from the other board members.
Mr. Irish said he was honored that the committee decided to leave him on the board but saddened at some of the other decisions.
“I think the director and deputy director were doing the best job they could under the circumstances. There was a lot of tension and pressure brought on by Mr. Stainbrook that caused them to focus on extraneous issues other than probably normal boards of elections have to deal with,” he said. “I’m willing and ready to help recharge the board of elections.”
Mr. Borgemenke cited the past efforts to impress upon the board the need for policies and procedures and pointed out that flaws continued. He noted Robert Walden, the manager of the vote tabulation system, “did a pretty good job” but is not certified.
“You have to be certified when you’re tabulating votes in the state of Ohio. The staff and the board allowed that to happen,” Mr. Borgemenke said.
The recommendation came at the end of four long public hearings and scrutiny of Tuesday’s election, especially complaints about the behavior on election night of Mr. Stainbrook and his associates, Ms. Gallagher and Kelly Bensman, who were there as election observers.
The director and the deputy director and the three other board members attacked Mr. Stainbrook as the cause of the “chaos” that helped delay the reporting of election results until about 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Witness after witness accused Mr. Stainbrook of exaggerating the importance of five missing data cards.
“We had chaos on election night, and if I may be blunt, a lot of that was caused by a particular board member and his cohorts,” Mr. DeAngelis said.
Ms. Kaczala complained that she was hounded by Ms. Gallagher and Ms. Bensman and was verbally abused about her “features and makeup.”
“[Mr. Stainbrook] kept calling me a liar, accusing me of being a criminal,” Ms. Kaczala said.
Mr. Irish called Mr. Stainbrook “the root of the problem.” Referring to his near-fight with Mr. Stainbrook in the office on election night, he said, “Many said I should have hit the guy.”
Mr. DeGidio, a one-time friend and attorney of Mr. Stainbrook, said, “Hats off to the staff for getting it done, given the terrible environment they were placed in by Mr. Stainbrook and his people.”
Mr. Rothenbuhler was more diplomatic. He choked back tears when he said he’d spent his time on the board trying to show how to behave fairly and as a gentleman, and it had no effect.
But Mr. Stainbrook countered the criticism by saying he was looking out for the integrity of the election and by citing media reports that undercut claims that he had been “yelling” and “screaming” at Ms. Kaczala early Wednesday.
He said that it was Mr. Irish who was told to step away by the sheriff’s deputy and quoted The Blade’s report that Ms. Kaczala had stepped toward Mr. Stainbrook “menacingly.”
“If all this yelling had occurred it would have been on the [WTVG-TV, Channel 13] Web site. It’s a complete falsehood,” he said. But he admitted, “I did call Gina a liar.”
The committee spent many minutes dissecting the layout of the vote-tabulating room and questioning why Ms. Kaczala and Mr. DeAngelis did not order the observers out of the room if they were misbehaving.
“I did go to the [deputy] sheriff, and he said he needed higher authority,” Ms. Kaczala said.
Mr. Borgemenke said the board should have had clear rules about who could be in the room and should have removed anyone who failed to behave properly.
The committee did not have an hour-by-hour chronology, so confusion continued as to when key issues were raised and resolved and when vote totals were reported.
Reasons given for the long delay in reporting election results were the focus on accounting for the five missing memory cards that turned out to have no votes on them, the search for three memory cards that were left in their cases or at a polling place, a technical glitch that forced the tabulators to delete and then retabulate a number of absentee votes, and the necessity of manually entering numerous write-in votes for the county central committee.
Also brought up was the confusion and extra work created by having to run a parallel election for Toledo Council District 2.
Blade Staff Writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.