Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, in a scathing letter to the Lucas County Board of Elections, issued a temporary order Wednesday breaking a deadlock and ordering the hiring of Republican Meghan Gallagher as director, after the Republican and Democratic members were unable to break a tie after five successive votes.
In addition, Mr. Husted blocked the firing of Dan DeAngelis, the Democratic deputy director, and Michelle Dudley, the Democratic information technology manager. The firings were sought by the two Republican members, Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio.
Mr. Husted said his actions were valid only until March 27, the deadline for the board to complete its official canvass of the March 6 election results. Mr. Husted said he will decide the promotion of LaVera Scott to deputy director on that date.
A motion to promote Ms. Scott was defeated when the two Democrats abstained and the two Republicans voted yes. Ms. Scott, a Democrat, is the board's voting-services manager.
The tie votes were sent to the secretary of state's office to break after the board's Feb. 14 meeting.
In the meantime, Mr. Husted asked the elections board to resolve its staffing issues at its reorganization meeting Friday or he would take action to "resolve those staffing issues on a permanent basis."
In his two-page letter addressed to Mr. DeAngelis and the board, Mr. Husted said such a resolution appeared unlikely "based on prior actions of the board."
The secretary of state also threatened to send an investigator to Toledo "to recommend how to resolve the constant conflicts" if the Lucas County board continues "to act in a partisan, dysfunctional manner."
He cited the short time remaining before Tuesday's primary and the weeks following when the board must officially canvass the election results for his actions.
Election certification must begin between March 17 and March 21.
Breaking another 2-2 deadlock, Mr. Husted agreed the board of elections should conduct two regularly slated meetings each month. The meetings can be canceled only with the agreement of three board members.
Ms. Gallagher, in response to the letter, said she was optimistic the board would be able to function smoothly with the recent appointment of former appeals court judge Keila Cosme.
"I feel it will be a smooth transition. I look forward to working with her," said Ms. Gallagher, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party's Central Committee. "Right now, I'm very focused on the primary election on Tuesday."
Ms. Gallagher, a Toledo resident and an ally and friend of Mr. Stainbrook, previously was an elections worker with the board. She graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Toledo.
She served as Lucas County Victory Director for the 2008 presidential bid of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and worked on John Kasich's gubernatorial bid in 2010.
She was hired as election manager in August, 2011, at a salary of $59,934. Ms. Gallagher said she had assumed the duties of director after Ben Roberts resigned in December.
The new elections director was Mr. Stainbrook's nominee for election manger in 2009 but was passed over in favor of Kelly Mettler, who has since been fired.
Mr. Stainbrook, who is also chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, called Mr. Husted's decision "prudent" and downplayed the threat from Mr. Husted to make decisions for Lucas County if the board of elections continues to stalemate.
The decision was "well-thought out and in the best interests of the voters of Lucas County to make sure we have a smooth-running election," Mr. Stainbrook said.
But the Lucas County Republican chairman warned that more deadlocks are possible because the Republican members no longer will "go along to get along" with their Democratic counterparts when voting on elections business.
"We are not going to … cut deals with the Democrats. We will not compromise," he said, citing years of 4-0 votes in favor of Democratic proposals over the interests of Republicans.
In her first official meeting Feb. 14, Ms. Cosme voted no with board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler on the deadlocked issues. The Republicans voted yes.
Each motion that ended in a tie vote was voted on five times, according to a provision of elections board law relating to hiring and firing of staff.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said the Democrats' no votes were an effort to delay action until Ms. Cosme had a chance to meet Ms. Gallagher or at least see her resume and get more knowledge about her before making a decision.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said he didn't take issue with Mr. Husted's letter, adding that he hoped both parties can work together and make necessary improvements.
The secretary of state's involvement with Lucas County's elections board is not new. In August, he broke a deadlock over terminating Lucas County board of elections workers, agreeing with Republicans to fire Dennis Lange, a booth official, and Ms. Mettler, elections manager. Both were Republicans.
At the same time Mr. Husted voted against firing three other Republican elections employees whom Mr. Stainbrook and Mr. DeGidio sought in an effort to purge what Mr. Stainbrook called an ineffective office.
In March, 2011, the secretary of state conducted a review of irregularities with provisional ballots cast in the November, 2010, election of Democrat Carol Contrada over Republican George Sarantou for Lucas County commissioner. That review led to Mr. Husted's ordering the immediate firing of two top elections board members.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.
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