Jill Kelly, the deputy director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, was on an indefinite sick leave yesterday, leaving the agency with no director or deputy director in charge and an important election only a few months away.
Ms. Kelly, who was left in control following the June 30 resignation of former Director Daniel Pilrose for medical reasons, called in sick Friday and yesterday. She was in the office Saturday to clear work off her desk.
Patrick Kriner, board of elections chairman, said the panel will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss personnel issues. He said that could include appointing a new director and an interim deputy director.
The elections office, which emerged from state oversight in 2006, is now facing a lawsuit accusing the board of failing to comply with public-records requests.
Mr. Kriner said Ms. Kelly had not, as of yesterday, submitted a formal request for a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and he did not know how long she would be gone.
Sheena Rice, left, speaks with Michelle Rudess-Dodd, center, and LaVera Scott at the Board of Elections. Ms. Scott and Desiree Lyonette temporarily will oversee the office.
I believe at this point in time her indication is she would return. She came in on the weekend to clear off her desk and make sure some of her projects were handed off to make sure they got done, Mr. Kriner said.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said the secretary has been made aware of the situation.
She ll be monitoring the situation very closely. This office will provide whatever support necessary for the board to run a successful election in November, spokesman Jeff Ortega said.
Mr. Kriner said he didn t know what medical reason Ms. Kelly was citing, but he didn t rule out stress.
Considering what she has been through taking us off of administrative oversight, running the office with three separate directors and deputy directors and then filling in on an interim basis as people are coming and going, is she under some stress? Yeah, it s kind of hard not to be, Mr. Kriner said.
He discounted the effect of the lawsuit filed last week in Ohio s 6th District Court of Appeals that accused the board under Ms. Kelly s leadership of failing to comply with public-records requests that were submitted by Kelly Bensman, an associate of Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook.
That suit was filed July 8, two days before Ms. Kelly informed Mr. Kriner that she intended to take a leave.
Ms. Kelly, a former Lucas County assistant prosecutor, was hired in May, 2004, as deputy elections director. She was promoted to director eight months later.
In March, she was demoted back to deputy director when the Lucas County Democratic Party, which effectively controls the board because a Democratic secretary of state,
Ms. Brunner, holds the tie-breaking vote, decided it wanted Mr. Pilrose to be director.
The Blade was allowed yesterday to look inside her office, which was still decorated with her personal paintings and other belongings.
Ms. Kelly did not return calls seeking comment.
Her son, Joe McNamara, a Toledo councilman, asked that her privacy be respected.
Temporarily overseeing the office are two office supervisors, LaVera Scott, the Democratic supervisor, and Desiree Lyonette, the Republican supervisor.
With a school levy election set for August and a potentially record turnout presidential election set for Nov. 4, the leadership vacuum is creating some concern.
Gary Johnson, a Democratic member of the elections board, said the staffers have been told not to take the absence of a director and a deputy director to mean that decisions can t be made.
I m taking a much heavier involvement to make sure the staff understand that all of the balls that are in the air can t be stopped just because we don t have a director and deputy director, Mr. Johnson said.
The Lucas County elections board was the last in the state to report results from the March 4 primary election.
And confusing instructions on absentee ballot documents may have contributed to 921 voters having their ballots invalidated for technical reasons.
The board also has become a target of criticism for Mr. Stainbrook, who has accused the organization of playing favorites in the March 4 election for county Republican Party central committee.
Mr. Stainbrook successfully fielded a slate of candidates for central committee, and then was elected chairman of the party, defeating the incumbent, Bob Reichert.
Yesterday, Mr. Stainbrook said, The thoughts and prayers of the entire Lucas County Republican Party go with Jill Kelly and her family at this present time with whatever she might face.
Mr. Stainbrook said if the board decides to name a replacement, whether interim or permanent, he should be consulted.
Jill Kelly or any other hire that affects the Lucas County Republican Party should be approved by the party chairman and the executive committee, he said.
This position, as the deputy director and the new director which the Democrats are choosing, is so crucial during a presidential election year that this is very troubling for me. The mishandling of the primary election and past elections is the whole reason why we did this thing, Mr. Stainbrook, referring to Ms. Bensman s lawsuit, said.
Mr. Kriner said an interim replacement does not require the input of the party chairman. I don t think so because it s a temporary assignment. We re not going to add an additional person to the payroll.
Typically, the board accepts the recommendation of the appropriate Lucas County political party chairman to replace the director or the deputy director.
Mr. Pilrose is a Democrat, and an appointment for his replacement is expected to be recommended soon by Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party.
Mr. Stainbrook has had a strained relationship with the Republican members of the elections board, recently calling for both of them Mr. Kriner and Lynn Olman to step down and make way for appointees recommended by him. Both have declined to resign.
Mr. Olman said he hopes Ms. Kelly returns to her job.
We are all concerned for her well-being, Mr. Olman said.
Contact Tom Troy at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6058.
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