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Published: Tuesday, 2/26/2013

Ohio Secretary of State Husted lifts oversight of elections operations

Lucas County board takes no action on recommended firings

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

FRED SQUILLANTE/ THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge

One day after his two appointees issued a scathing report about the Lucas County Board of Elections, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has taken the board he once called dysfunctional off of administrative oversight.

The move came a day after a report from the two consultants recommended firing the board's director, Republican Meghan Gallagher, and deputy director, Democrat Dan DeAngelis.

In a letter mailed to the board electronically today, Mr. Husted did not allude to the report's recommendations that the board fire Ms. Gallagher and Mr. DeAngelis, and the board, which met for its regular meeting today, took no action in response to that recommendation.

"You have been provided with a road map to place the Lucas County Board of Elections on track. My office has provided you with all the tools and resources that we can reasonably provide," Mr. Husted wrote.

RELATED ARTICLE: State consultants suggest firing top 2 local elections officials

He went on to advise the board that the elections board's "responsibility and accountability for the future" now rests with the two Democratic and two Republican board members.

The report, issued Monday by consultants Jonathan Allison of Columbus and James Ruvolo of Ottawa Hills, attacked the board as operating in a culture of "mistrust and paranoia," and lacking good management practices in personnel, record keeping, budgeting, and asset inventory.

In their responses to the report Monday, Republican board member Jon Stainbrook and Democratic board Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler said another round of removing directors wouldn't solve the board's problems and said the solution lies in getting the employees to be more responsible.

In a surprise move today -- a surprise to two of the board members, Republican Tony DeGidio and Democrat John Irish -- Mr. Stainbrook introduced a motion to fire all of the board's staff jobs except for the director and the deputy director, and make them reapply for their jobs.

The motion appeared to have Mr. Rothenbuhler's backing. But after Mr. DeGidio and Mr. Irish balked at the proposal, the board went into recess, and when it reconvened about half an hour later, Mr. Rothenbuhler announced that the motion would die for a lack of a second.

The resolution would have terminated people in 14 job categories and required them to submit resumes by March 6.

Mr. Irish said that he came to the meeting today prepared to have voted to accept the recommendation to fire the two top officials, despite what he said were some unfair criticisms in the report, but said he would settle for some of the report's other recommendations to be implemented.

Mr. Irish said the report made some "disturbing statements," such as criticizing the board's lack of control of its physical assets, including a laptop computer that disappeared in 2012; reports of board members dealing directly with lower-level employees, and mistrust in the office.

He said he wanted to see an updated organizational chart, a policy regarding board members talking to employees below the director and deputy director level, a progressive discipline policy, and a plan to address management of the board's physical assets.

The report had highlighted the disappearance of a laptop computer that cost the board $5,000 to replace lost software in another machine. Mr. Stainbrook said the computer disappeared last year when an office was cleared out to make room for the two "special masters" appointed by Mr. Husted. Mr. DeAngelis said an exhaustive inventory review is under way.

"I was willing to vote for all of the recommendations today," Mr. Irish said. "As far as dismissals go, I'm going to hold off until I see what happens next meeting."

Mr. Husted in August put Ms. Gallagher and Mr. DeAngelis, who are each paid more than $80,000 a year, under the direct supervision of two "special masters" appointed by him and ordered them to check in each morning by phone with the secretary of state's office. The intent of that was to get through the 2012 presidential election.

Mr. Stainbrook also said the report made legitimate criticisms even though he said some of its claims were not accurate. He vowed to "re-energize" an effort with the Lucas County Board of Commissioners to find a single building in which to consolidate all of the elections board's activities.

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



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