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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Election board accused of unethical actions

By William Kincaid
A local candidate has questioned the integrity of the Mercer County Board of Elections' staff and accused its deputy director, Denise Fullenkamp, of conflict of interest.
During the regular meeting of the board of election on Monday morning, Melissa Hoying of Fort Recovery expressed concern over her failed petition to run for re-election on the governing board of the Mercer County Educational Service Center. Only 46 of Hoying's 54 signatures on her petition were deemed valid. The board requires a minimum of 50 valid signatures.
Hoying's name will not appear on the ballot; voters must write in her name to elect her as a write-in candidate.
Hoying accused Fullenkamp - who reviewed some of Hoying's petition - of conflict of interest, as Fullenkamp's husband Matt is running for the same position on the ESC board. Fullenkamp was not at the meeting.
Hoying, an incumbent board member of the ESC, said she submitted her signed petition to Fullenkamp on the Tuesday prior to the deadline. At that time, Hoying said Fullenkamp ensured her that she would validate her signed petition and call her back.
"I trusted I would receive a phone call this time," Hoying said.
However, Hoying said she never received a phone call from Fullenkamp and didn't learn that there was problem with her petition until 3:30 p.m. on deadline day - by Andy Smith, superintendent of the ESC, not Fullenkamp.
"By that time it was too late to do anything," Hoying said.
Hoying said Fullenkamp claimed to have tried to call her multiple times, but Hoying said she never received a phone call. Hoying said she was told that the office staff uses a restricted phone line that may not have been accessible on Hoying's phone.
"If she really wanted to call me, she could of," Hoying said, before pointing out that her phone does indeed receive all types of blocked and restricted calls.
In addition to many other questions, such as why the election staff doesn't accept P.O. box addressees, Hoying asked why Fullenkamp wasn't removed from the petition verification process, as her husband was running for the same seat as Hoying.
"In my opinion, this is clearly a conflict of interest and makes me question the integrity of (the election staff and office)," Hoying said.
In response to Hoying's many concerns and questions, Mercer County Elections Director Lynn Wylds said the office only returns calls concerning petition validation as a courtesy - it is not, by board policy, a requirement.
"I believe she (Fullenkamp) did that out of courtesy," Wylds said.
Wylds also said the office has always used the blocked or restricted phone lines, as mandated by the Mercer County commissioners.
Board member Mark Uhlenhake said the issue about the phone lines would be reviewed.
"I have no problem bringing it up to the commissioners," he said.
In response to why some signatures were not valid, Hoying passed out copies out of her petition to board members to go over the signatures in question. Some of the petition names were printed instead of signed, which according to the Ohio Secretary of State must be deemed invalid.
Also, some of the signatories' addresses were either not registered or did not match the addresses registered at the office. Some signatures were not deemed genuine or matching the signature on file.
Hoying said she initially was told that Superintendent Smith's signature was deemed not genuine, but Wylds denied that comment, pointing out that Smith's signature was indeed genuine.
Uhlenhake said Hoying's situation was unfortunate, but she should have secured more signatures just to be on the safe side.
"I always say get 70 signatures, 20 more than needed," he said.
As to the issue of conflict or apparent conflict of interest, most in attendance defended the integrity of Fullenkamp.
"I don't think she would do anything wrong," Betty Cook said, before pointing out she didn't think there was a conflict of interest because Matt Fullenkamp has a right to run just like anyone else.
Wylds said Fullenkamp has never done anything malicious, while Owen Hall said she had the most seniority in the office.
However, when Hoying said Fullenkamp should have been removed to protect the integrity of the office, board member Del Kramer agreed.
"I agree, but it didn't happen," he said.
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