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Despite describing the Lucas County Board of Elections as being in its own class of dysfunction, Secretary of State Jon Husted said Tuesday that he would not detail the specific charges against five top officials of the local board whom he has threatened to fire.
Mr. Husted on Tuesday told three board members and two top administrators that he was starting the process to remove them because of a culture of “dysfunction and overall neglect of duty.”
“The basis of the removal is in the letter,” Mr. Husted said. He said specific violations “will be outlined in any official act." He said the board’s dysfunction, which he described as “petty infighting, personality conflicts, and sloppy administration,” was detailed in the four days of hearings in front of his appointed Transparency Committee.
“I’m not going to get into the process stuff,” Mr. Husted said. Asked how they can defend themselves without knowing in advance exactly why they are being removed, he said, “they will have the opportunity in the hearing. That’s how the process works."
The five individuals threatened with removal are Democratic board member Ron Rothenbuhler, Republican board members Jon Stainbrook and Tony DeGidio, Republican Director Gina Kaczala, and Democratic Deputy Director Dan DeAngelis. Exempted from the firing was Democratic board member John Irish.
The secretary of state scheduled hearings to start at 9 a.m. Thursday in Government Center to give the five individuals a chance to say why they should not be fired.
Mr. Husted said the board has been given plenty of direction and oversight and that it’s not his job to run the board. He has the power under the Ohio Revised Code to remove any board members or staffers on grounds of neglect of duty, misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.
During four lengthy hearings conducted by Mr. Husted’s Transparency Committee, testimony surfaced of personal bickering and disputes in the workplace, tampering with computers, abuse of sick leave, failure to hire pollworkers to work the polling places, and failure to follow state law and hold regular meetings.
Mr. Husted last year removed two Democratic members of the Putnam County Board of Elections. Board members Ann Dillinger and Martin Kuhlman were notified July 22, 2013, of his intent to remove them. They had their due-process hearings Aug. 2 and were formally removed from the board Aug. 27.
The two were removed from the board in the wake of a court ruling awarding more than $36,000 in damages and attorney fees to a Fort Jennings resident for violations of Ohio open meetings law in 2008 and 2009. Mr. Husted appointed their replacements Sept. 14.
Ms. Kaczala, who was promoted from board secretary to department director March 4, said she does not know how to defend herself.
“They talked about problems. But mainly what the committee talked about was the toxic environment. Truthfully, I was perplexed and surprised when they mentioned my name,” Ms. Kaczala said.
Mr. Husted refused to comment on how the board would be managed in the immediate future if the three board members and director and deputy director are removed. The board still has to finish certifying the results of the May 6 primary and start preparing for a special local election in August. "We're going to let [the hearing] process take its course before we draw the conclusions that could potentially lead to having to replace them," Mr. Husted said.
He said the board has had plenty of direction in the past two years. The secretary of state appointed two “special masters” to oversee the November, 2012, presidential election in Lucas County. After that, two people appointed by Mr.Husted issued a report calling for staff changes and adoptions of policies. He said the advice was ignored.
“The system is supposed to work with local people running local elections and reporting the results to the state, not the state coming in and having to provide constant care and feeding to make sure that it doesn’t break down and fall apart,” Mr. Husted said.
“The English language does not have a word for how dysfunctional the Lucas County Board of Elections is,” Mr. Husted said.