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COLUMBUS — Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook claims he was removed from the county board of elections by Secretary of State Jon Husted because of complaints he had filed alleging violations of state election law.
A pre-hearing has been set for Tuesday before a State Personnel Board of Review administrative law judge as Mr. Stainbrook fights to regain his seat on the grounds that his “whistleblower” status protected him from retribution.
“Mr. Husted has no legal authority to remove me, because I did not commit ‘malfeasance, nonfeasance, or neglect of duty’ as alleged by [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt] Damschroder,” Mr. Stainbrook wrote in response to a questionnaire supporting his complaint.
“I complied with elections laws and completed all required duties of a board member that are prescribed to by [law],” he wrote. “The secretary exceeded his authority by removing me …”
Mr. Stainbrook has filed two complaints with the panel, one challenging the validity of his removal from the elections board and the other asserting his status as a whistleblower employee who cannot be fired for bringing alleged wrongdoing to the attention of superiors.
On June 5, Mr. Husted removed Mr. Stainbrook, second GOP member Tony DeGidio, and former county Democratic Party Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler from the elections board. That left Democrat John Irish as the only member left standing.
Mr. Stainbrook is the sole former board member to appeal his removal with the bipartisan SPBR, which, among other things, hears allegations of retaliation against public employee whistleblowers.
His appeals are separate from a lawsuit pending before the Ohio Supreme Court filed by the county Republican Party that challenges Mr. Husted’s refusal to appoint board replacements recommended by the county Republican Party — Kelly Bensman and Benjamin Roberts.
Mr. Husted, represented by Attorney General Mike DeWine, has asked the board to dismiss Mr. Stainbrook’s appeals.
“... instead of rushing to judgment or allegedly retaliating against a so-called ‘whistleblower,’ the secretary of state regularly and clearly communicated to [Mr. Stainbrook] and his fellow board members that they — and they alone — were ultimately responsible for fixing the operational and cultural dysfunction at the BOE,” Mr. Husted’s response reads.
“In doing so, the secretary gave [Mr. Stainbrook] and his fellow board members a wide berth in which to work locally to this end,” it reads. “Sadly, [Mr. Stainbrook] and his fellow board members took few, if any, steps over the course of nearly three years to remedy their own problems.”
Mr. Stainbrook wrote that he sent “multiple” allegations of violations of election law and directive violations to Mr. Husted and the county prosecutor’s office. Most went unanswered.
“At this time, I was threatened with removal for making written reports that documented violations of federal and state laws and secretary of state directives committed by elections officials and for sending them to the secretary of state,” he wrote. “As a direct result of my whistleblower complaints, I was removed by the Ohio Secretary of State.”
In its response, the attorney general’s office countered the correspondence from Mr. Stainbrook helped make Mr. Husted’s case.
“They show that the Lucas County Board of Elections in general, and Mr. Stainbrook in particular, were dysfunctional,” its response reads. “They also show that the only choice Secretary Husted had in fixing the problems at the Lucas County Board of Elections was to exercise his statutory right and remove Mr. Stainbrook.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.