By Lance Mihm
WAPAKONETA -- The Auglaize County Board of Elections voted unanimously to eliminate the job of elections coordinator, a position created just this week in an attempt to keep former director Jean Burklo in the office.
"I vote yes with reservation," board member Diana Hausfeld of Minster said during a meeting Friday afternoon. The other three board members quickly followed with yes votes.
Burklo was ordered dismissed from the director's position, effective Friday, after an investigation by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell found Burklo in violation of laws governing petitions, public records, office administration and the voting process. The investigatiors also blasted the board of elections for not doing its job.
The county board of elections attempted to keep Burklo in the office by creating the new position of election coordinator and hiring her to that spot. While Blackwell's report ordered Burklo dismissed from the director's position, the board argued that it did not say she could not be rehired at a different position. Representatives from Black- well's office said the message was clear -- she was to be removed.
The board originally attempted to abolish the coordinator position during a special meeting Thursday, but Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Edwin Pierce advised the board to schedule another meeting because that action was not listed on the agenda. So the board held another meeting Friday afternoon, with that action listed on an agenda. After the Friday meeting, Hausfeld said she felt it was unfair that Burklo was carrying the brunt of the punishment.
"This is all because of a disgruntled employee," Hausfeld said. "(Former elections deputy director) Ken Nuss knew about some of these allegations a year and a half ago but didn't turn them in until he knew he was going to get fired."
The investigation into Burklo and the elections board was sparked when Nuss sent a letter in October to the Secretary of State's office listing improper actions at the office.
A day later the election board held an emergency meeting to notify Nuss that the board was considering disciplinary charges against him. During that meeting Secretary of State field representative Jake Fashner notified the board of the state's intention to discipline the board and put it on administrative oversight.
State officials began overseeing the board's actions on Oct. 28 and will continue until the state feels the office is operating properly, officials have said. Nuss resigned at a meeting Oct. 23.
In a telephone interview Friday, Nuss claimed threats against his job was his reason for not turning the allegations over to Blackwell's office sooner.
"Diana (Hausfeld) told me during a board meeting that if I ever turned anything into the state, I wouldn't have a job," Nuss claimed. "It was said during an open meeting, and no one else was there except workers at the office and the board."
The elections board now is saying the investigation into Burklo was inaccurate because a secretary of state official has a personal vendetta against Burklo.
On Thursday Pierce said in a press release that a special prosecutor will be appointed to review and investigate the state's findings.
"I believe that it is imperative that a complete, fair and independent investigation be conducted," he wrote. "To maintain public confidence in our system, such an investigation must be conducted without any bias, prejudice or preconceived beliefs. The only way to accomplish that is to seek a full, complete and independent investigation."
Pierce said the application for a special prosecutor already has been filed with the Auglaize County Clerk of Courts office. The county common pleas court will appoint the prosecutor.
Also on Thursday, Fashner told elections board members that new allegations have been brought to the state's attention and another investigation will begin soon. He would not comment any further on the new allegations.
Newly-hired director Linda Householder will take over as director Monday. Josie Schaub, an office clerk who has been with the office for 13 years, will become deputy director. Burklo was given a day of vacation on Friday, her last day of work.