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03-11-06 Officials ignore open meetings law issue

By Janie Southard

  County and state officials appear to be sidestepping the question of whether or not Auglaize County elections board members violated Ohio's open meetings law during the process of ousting former Director Linda Huber.

  And it appears no one is going to do anything about it.

  James Lee, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, said decisions concerning county election board personnel fall under the supervision of the county prosecutor. That expectation includes making sure the board stays in compliance with the Ohio Sunshine Laws.

  "Personnel decisions certainly are part of any normal function of a county agency. All agencies including the board of elections relies on advice of the county prosecutor to make sure they stay in compliance with Ohio law," Lee said during a telephone interview.

  Contacted Friday morning at his office, Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce said "It's easy for Mr. Lee to indicate what my role is. He needed to be at the meeting and to have been able to read the minds of the board in order to anticipate what was going to happen."  The county elections board, which remains on administrative oversight by Blackwell's office following the removal of former Director Jean Burklo 11 months ago for improprieties in office, removed Huber at last week's reorganizational meeting following a process of nomination and secret ballot.

  To that point, all appears in compliance with Ohio law.

  Huber was not nominated to retain her position. Carolyn Campbell, wife of Auglaize County Democratic Committee Chair Dave Campbell, was elected by a vote of 3-1. Office clerk Margaret Metheny received the one vote, but was later elected unanimously to be the new deputy director.

  The problem arose when it was discovered later the decision not to nominate Huber was made prior to the public meeting of the board.

  Board member Mary Dee Malueg told The Daily Standard following last week's meeting the decision was made "a couple days" before the meeting -- a violation of the the open meetings law that states every public body must "hold all deliberations" on official business in meetings that are open to the public.

  Malueg said board members "talked about it" but "never met together as a board."

  In response to Lee's comment, Pierce said he is indeed legal adviser for the elections board and every other board, agency and township in the county. If asked a question by any of the county agencies, he will provide advice based upon his research.

  "In this instance (the election board reorganization meeting), I was asked to attend for the purpose of swearing in whoever was nominated. There was no issue I was aware of at that point indicating a discussion between members of the board," he said. "Only after the nomination and vote and subsequent swearing in was this issue even raised."

  Lee chose not to comment on any violation of the Sunshine Law by the Auglaize county election board because he has "not personally spoken with any board member about incidents which took place during the biennial reorganization meeting."

  Asked for his comments on a Sunshine Law violation, Pierce said, "You're asking me to speculate.

  "You and I were at the same meeting. I know the same things you do ... It certainly seemed to me that all (the nominations, voting by paper ballot and counting of the ballots) took place in view of everyone," he said.

  Ohio Sunshine Laws on open meetings also says: "A public body must not circumvent the act by scheduling back-to-back discussions of public business which, taken together, are attended by a majority of the members. Such 'round robin' or 'serial' meetings appear to violate the open meetings act."


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