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Published: Tuesday, 3/29/2011

2 top staffers at elections board to lead in interim

County to begin search for new director, deputy

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Kelly Mettler Kelly Mettler
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The Lucas County Board of Elections will begin advertising for a new director and deputy director on Thursday, and in the meantime will continue to operate with two top staffers shouldering more of the management burden, Patrick Kriner, chairman of the board of elections, said Monday.

Mr. Kriner met with the remaining top two supervisors in the office Monday, Democrat LaVera Scott and Republican Kelly Mettler, to discuss how management issues will be addressed in the wake of a board shake-up that cost the director and deputy director their jobs on Friday.

Ms. Scott, 44, is paid $59,934 as voter services supervisor. Ms. Mettler, 45, is paid $59,934 as elections manager.

"The chain of command remains what it is and they are going to be doing their jobs as supervisors," Mr. Kriner said Monday. He said he expects to be at the board office as many days a week as possible as well as be accessible by phone. Elections board member is a part-time job. He said the board's information technology department is independent of the two supervisors.

Director Linda Howe and Deputy Director Jeremy Demagall were terminated on Friday by the elections board on a 3-0 vote, with one member abstaining. The vote was taken a day after Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered the board to fire the pair at its next meeting.

Mr. Husted said in a letter to Mr. Kriner the day before that the firing was warranted because Ms. Howe and Mr. Demagall had violated instructions from the secretary of state's office not to count certain provisional ballots. He said 114 provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct were counted as valid, contrary to numerous directives from the secretary of state.

Elections officials said they counted the ballots because they were cast in the right location but were directed to the wrong table by election workers. Directives from the secretary of state said such ballots could be counted only if voters had only used their Social Security number as identification and where there was evidence of poll worker error.

Mr. Kriner said the ads for replacements for Ms. Howe and Mr. Demagall must run in a newspaper for one week as required by the secretary of state, and that the board will accept resumes until April 15. He said he did not know how long it would take to interview applicants but said it could be a long process that will involve background checks.

The director and deputy director by law must be of opposing parties. In the past, boards of election have been known to appoint individuals recommended to them by the local party chairmen.

However, Mr. Kriner disagreed that was the tradition and said the appointments will be made on the recommendation of the board members themselves.

Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, recommended the appointment of Ms. Howe in 2008. Since he is a member of the board of elections he will be in a position to both recommend and appoint.

The chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party is Jon Stainbrook, who has not had a working relationship with either of the Republican board members, Mr. Kriner and Ben Marsh. In the past, Mr. Stainbrook has called for both of them to be removed from the board so that he or persons he supports can be appointed.

Mr. Kriner has refused to step down. Mr. Marsh announced last week he would step down no later than May 31, which could leave him in office long enough to vote on replacements for the director and deputy director. Mr. Marsh said he delayed his departure to make sure a quorum of three board members will be on hand at the May 3 special election because Mr. Rothenbuhler has family plans that will take him out of town that day.

Under state law, the board must replace the director and deputy director with people of the same party as they were. If the board can't make a decision after five ballots, the secretary of state is allowed to intervene.

Mr. Stainbrook said yesterday that the board's replacements won't lead to significant changes in the way the board operates.

"They're going to rehire their cronies," Mr. Stainbrook said.

He contends that the board allowed too many questionable provisional ballots to be counted in the Nov. 2 election, costing Republican nominee George Sarantou the election as county commissioner against Democrat Carol Contrada.

LaVera Scott LaVera Scott
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A Blade investigation published Sunday found that at least 527 ballot envelopes may have had fatal flaws — more than twice the margin of victory of Ms. Contrada in the Nov. 2 election for county commissioner against Mr. Sarantou. The board of elections has defended its process for counting ballots while conceding the 114 disputed provisional ballots were improperly counted.

Neither Ms. Scott nor Ms. Mettler is being given additional pay or a temporary title, but both will become Mr. Kriner's point of contact in running the board and especially in planning for the May 3 special election.

In a memo to the staff, Mr. Kriner called for workers to fill the gap created by the sudden loss of top management on Friday.

"Since for the time being we will be operating without a Director or Deputy Director I am asking all employees who have questions or concerns to maintain the current ‘Chain of Command' and refer any and all questions to your immediate supervisor," Mr. Kriner's memo said. "As I said last Friday, each and everyone of us must ‘step up' and work together as a team until such time when New Leadership can be back in place. Until then, let's work together through the usual channels of management here at the Board of Elections."

Mr. Kriner said election law does not allow him to appoint an interim director or deputy director.

The May 3 election is to decide a vacancy in Toledo City Council District 4 and new school levies in Maumee and Sylvania.

Certified to run for City Council are Paula Hicks-Hudson, Terry Shankland, and Alfonso Narvaez.

The levy issues are a new continuing 5.9-mill tax levy for Maumee city school district to raise about $2.7 million a year and a new continuing 4.9-mill levy in Sylvania city school district to generate about $7.1 million annually.

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



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