By JD LONG

jim@harrisonnewsherald.com

CADIZ – The Harrison County Board of Elections (BOE) last week, was handed a formal administrative oversight letter from the office of the Ohio Secretary of State (SOS). Within this letter dated Jan. 22, involves eight articles for reasons of the oversight.

“For the past several months, our Office held informal weekly calls with the Harrison County Board of Elections to help improve operations,” the letter begins. “Unfortunately, these informal, intermediate steps were not enough to turn around the board’s trajectory.” The first reason states that the BOE failed to correctly issue certificates of election following the Nov. General Election.

“Without a proper certificate of election, an officer-elect cannot receive their Governor’s Commission and take office,” This first reason states that basic responsibilities were not met including, “printing the individual’s name” and “signatures from the director and board members.” It goes on to say that Ohio Secretary of State staff members had to personally come to the Harrison County BOE office after they saw work not being done correctly. 

“This repeated failure would have left your county residents without a fully functioning government at the start of the new term,” the letter states.

Some of the other reasons listed include the BOE accepting a discrepancy while certifying results of the 2020 primary, even though the board did “not properly reconcile the number of ballots scanned to ensure that the number matched the number of voters.”

Board Member John Jones said this week that the issue had not been rectified and would not certify the election results until fixed. But former BOE employee Abigail Klamert said she herself fixed the problem. Also, the BOE failed to properly conduct a post-election audit after the 2020 primary (only winning ballots counted and were re-done). Reason eight appears to be even more disturbing than the other seven with accusations of a “pattern of disrespect, hostility, lack of professionalism, and partisanship.”

This appears to be the catalyst for issues that have exposed a deep fissure of unrest within the BOE that has festered since 2015 when Director Ruby Foutz took the position, according to multiple sources. A handful of former employees and board members have come forward with their complaints over what they call Foutz’s “incompetence” as well as the harassment and bullying at the hands of Republican Board Member John Jones. 

Over the past several years six people have resigned with five of them being democrats and all who’ve been reached, cited the above reasons, which include former members Harry Edgar and Bette Hill and current Board Member Cheryl Besozzi.

It also states the BOE authorized a clerk for use of their own signature stamps and have the director sign. It explains that the board members signed the “same certificate twice and forgot to empower their last county commissioner to take office.” Press Secretary for the SOS Maggie Sheehan stated this week that their staff “intervened” in time for the signing of a new certificate for Paul Coffland to take office. Regarding any effects on election results Sheehan stated it “has in no way affected the 2020 election results in Harrison County.”

Another disturbing issue brought forth was the fact that there are two documented minutes for the same October meeting. The BOE requested help from Carroll County’s BOE and four volunteered with sorting absentee ballots that had piled up. This took place in early October with no request for payment, according to several sources, including Carroll County BOE Director Cherri Whipkey. Foutz decided to pay each volunteer $100 in cash, which was confirmed by Whipkey and substantiated with documents provided by Harrison County Auditor Allison Anderson.

This was not illegal but according to Anderson, Deputy Director of the auditor’s office Ty Yosick asked for proof of payment to the four volunteers in order for Foutz to be reimbursed. This apparently led to a second set of minutes to present back to Yosick where it states the four Carroll County employees were approved for payment. Board Member Marjorie Findling’s motion was approved for paying them but that second set of minutes does not mention the word “reimbursement.”

Anderson stated they asked and received the proper documentation, which lists the word reimbursement for Foutz to be paid.

The problem for the BOE is there was already a first set of minutes for that October meeting and does not mention reimbursement for Foutz, or to pay the four volunteers. 

“We never approved giving Ruby four hundred dollars…” BOE Board Member and Chair Holly Brindley stated. According to former and current BOE members the decision to pay the four was made after the meeting had adjourned, which was not on the record.

“We did not know the money was going to Ruby,” Brindley repeated, which Besozzi agreed. She added that nothing was known about a $400 payment until they saw the “updated” minutes. She stated that the meeting should have been opened back up, the issue voted on and then closed again, which she said was not done. 

“And she has it written like it happened during the meeting, which it did not,” Brindley said. She also said she even took notes after the meeting discussion and it is not in there. But the notion of impropriety is glaring.

Jones stated that he does remember it happening the way it’s written in the second set of minutes but Brindley said he is the only one. Jones also stated that the SOS does not tell the whole story referring to the accusation of hostility, which “caused the board to lose four highly qualified employees and one distinguished board member.”

“But some of those people that caused the problem are the reason we got put on administrative oversight,” Jones explained. When asked if it was a coincidence that five of the six were democrats, he said he wasn’t sure if he was “allowed to say what was done.”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know, okay,” Jones continued. When asked why there were two sets of minutes he stated that he didn’t know who wrote the minutes. He stated that they were not the first to be under administrative review and reverted back to the primary last May and the numbers not matching, insinuating the beginning of the problem with SOS.

Klamert stated that there were initially13 ballots that did not match the machine count and later discovered after calling in TRIAD, that she had made an error and fixed it. Jones said he could defend himself but stopped short of laying blame on anyone else specifically for the problems with SOS. As far as the rest of the SOS letter, he had no comment. 

Foutz has been on Family Medical Leave (FMLA) since December for a duration of three months, according to multiple sources. Her leave began in December and a message left on her answering machine had not been returned. Findling was sought for comment and reached by a third party but did not respond.

The SOS left strict criteria for the BOE to follow but finished with what sounds like an ultimatum.

“If there is a person who is not well-suited for an executive leadership position, but has years of institutional knowledge, you may consider keeping them as a clerk for the next term.”