The Lucas County Board of Elections was tight-lipped yesterday about the dismissal of a longtime employee and her accusations of misconduct and lack of oversight by Elections Director Jill Kelly.
Patrice Webster was fired after the four-member board of elections met twice on Tuesday in closed-door meetings to discuss personnel issues.
An administrative assistant since 2001, Ms. Webster was suspended with pay on Friday. The board decided to dismiss Ms. Webster a day after she sent a letter to Ms. Kelly alleging lack of oversight and malfeasance in the administration of the elections board office.
The claims made by Ms. Webster include irregularities and improper conduct in voting procedures during the May, 2006, primary and last November's general election.
She alleges, among other things, that Ms. Kelly chose not to inform the Ohio secretary of state that an uncounted provisional ballot was found in the elections warehouse after the November election.
Ms. Webster also alleges that Ms. Kelly allowed the staff to use Help America Vote Act funds on election board expenditures that were not an intended use of the federal election grant money.
Rita Clark, chairman of the board, refused to say what she and other members of the board discussed in the meetings that resulted in Ms. Webster's firing and the accusations that she raised in the letter.
Ms. Clark and Gary Johnson, who are the Democratic Party's appointees on the board, and their Republican Party counterparts - Lynn Olman and Patrick Kriner - referred questions to John A. Borell, a county assistant prosecutor.
"We have been instructed [by Mr. Borell] not to discuss this with anyone outside the board," Ms. Clark said. "Mr. Borell represents the board of elections. He guides us in the right direction and that is why we have him for an attorney."
Ms. Webster's attorney, Joe Kidd, who was fired as elections director in 2004, said a wrongful-termination lawsuit would be filed in court against the board of elections.
He said he believes the letter his client sent to Ms. Kelly and Ms. Webster's use of sick time for health problems played a role in the board's decision.
"I don't want to get into the reasons. A lawsuit will eventually be filed. I don't want to get into the causes of actions," Mr. Kidd said.
Mr. Borell, an attorney in the prosecutor's office civil division, said he is reviewing the letter submitted by Ms. Webster to determine whether an investigation is warranted for possible election law violations.
He would not comment on Ms. Webster's dismissal.
"I cannot talk about what happened in the situation with Patrice Webster. I cannot comment on what was discussed in the executive session because that is covered by attorney-client privilege," he said.
Mr. Borell and Mr. Kidd said the possibility of Ms. Webster resigning from the office was explored. However, Mr. Kidd said he was not given enough time Tuesday to discuss that option with his client.
Ms. Kelly said Ms. Webster was suspended with pay a day after she was warned about being insubordinate.
The warning was made available yesterday. It was not among the documents provided by Ms. Kelly on Tuesday when a Blade reporter reviewed the contents of Ms. Webster's personnel file.
In the warning, Ms. Kelly said Ms. Webster refused on four occasions to provide the name of an employee who asked that the minutes of election board meetings be posted in the office. The warning said disciplinary action was warranted because Ms. Webster's behavior in the April 5 incident "constituted insubordination."
"I advised her that this is not a grade school and when asked for information and or accountability as per previous discussions, she must provide the requested information or stay out of employee matters completely," Ms. Kelly wrote.
In reaction to issues involving ballot security in the 2004 election, the Ohio secretary of state placed the elections board under administrative watch after conducting an investigation into problems in the office. The elections board was taken off administrative watch in December.
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