Elections board in turmoil

By DENISE GRANT
STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA — Turmoil continues on the Putnam County Board of Elections.

Last year, Secretary of State Jon Husted replaced two elections board members who violated Ohio’s open meeting laws.

Early this month, Husted named a former elections board employee, Virginia Price, to serve on the four-member board. Price had been fired in 2008 and then sued the elections board.

On Tuesday, with Price aboard, the elections board couldn’t agree on reappointing a deputy director, and asked Husted to settle the matter.

The board was divided on reappointing Shelly Burkhart, a Republican, as deputy director.

Board members Anthony Wobler and Carla Tooman, both Democrats, voted in favor of keeping Burkhart.

Both Republican board members, Price and Tom Jerwers, want Burkhart replaced. Burkhart was appointed in January 2009.

Since the board vote was 2-2, Husted has been asked to decide.

In a separate 3-to-1 vote held Tuesday, the board did reappoint Karen Lammers, a Democrat, as board director. Lammers has held the position since October 2008. Price cast the dissenting vote.

Wobler called the negative votes on the two appointments a “witch hunt.”

Price said Wobler’s “accusation was just that, an accusation, and uncalled for. We’re trying to get along here.”

Price was appointed to the elections board on March 1 by Husted as part of the routine two-year reorganization of the board. Price was director of the elections board until she was fired in October 2008 for installing software upgrades to the election board’s computer system without authorization from the state. She then sued the board and the county for wrongful termination, and settled out of court.

Price has been named chairman of the elections board for this year.

“I think we need to have change in there. We have a new board. I think we need to have employees of our own choosing,” Price said of Tuesday’s votes.

“I’m just standing up for what is right,” Wobler said. “We haven’t had one dissenting vote up until this meeting and I anticipate we won’t have further problems beyond this.”

Jerwers was also contacted by The Courier on Tuesday afternoon, but deferred comment to Price.

In September, Husted appointed both Wobler and Tooman to the board to finish the unexpired terms of Ann Dillinger and Martin Kuhlman.

Dillinger and Kuhlman were removed from the board in 2013 by Husted after they were found to have violated Ohio’s open meeting laws.

State law requires bipartisan representation on each of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections.

Each board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, all of whom must be voters in the counties where they serve.

The secretary of state makes appointments to elections boards based on the recommendations of county political parties. Wobler and Tooman were recommended by the Putnam County Democratic Party.

Grant: 419-427-8412
Send an E-mail to Denise Grant
Twitter: @CourierDenise

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