By Timothy Cox
Mercer County elections officials have opted against a round of training for its newly hired director and deputy director to be held in Cleveland next month.
The weeklong training seminar is sponsored by the Elections Center, a national non-profit group "dedicated to promoting, preserving and improving democracy." Its members are government employees working in voter registration and elections administration.
Republican members of the Mercer County Board of Elections during a Monday meeting said they believe the training being offered would be valuable to elections Director Denise Fullenkamp, who was hired last month. However, neither of the two members was willing to fight over pay for the training session.
Democratic board members questioned the cost and suggested the training should be part of the Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's annual election education curriculum.
Blackwell's office has offered all 88 Ohio counties a $1,000 grant to offset the cost of the training, but the trip to Cleveland, including tuition and other costs is $2,250 plus mileage and meals. The training session is not mandatory and is simply a venture of the non-profit group. Classes during the week would focus on a number of issues involving voter registration. Even after completion, a class participant would only be a fraction of the way toward full Elections Center certification.
Despite the $1,000 grant from the state, the class is not endorsed or recommended by Blackwell's office, said Toni Slusser, the county's former elections director who now works for Blackwell's office. The grants were made available simply to make the training "less financially cumbersome," Slusser said.
Even with the grant opportunity, board members could not come to an agreement on the issue.
"We've got a new director. If we can enhance the ability of the staff, I think we're obligated to look at that," Republican board member Owen Hall said.
Democratic board member Mark Uhlenhake said he believes some of the classes being offered in Cleveland are mirrored by training provided by Blackwell's office. Those that do not should be included in the state's elections training program if Blackwell believes they are necessary, Uhlenhake said.
Board members moved onto other business without voting on the issue.