MIAMI COUNTY — On Tuesday, the Miami County Board of Elections reviewed an ethics complaint against Miami County Board of Elections Chairman Dave Fisher.
Executive director Laura Bruns was not present.
In a public information request, the Miami Valley Today obtained a copy of the complaint filed by Mark Hensley, a Bethel Township resident and candidate for the Republican Central Committee. Hensley filed the complaint with the board of elections, the Secretary of State’s Office and the Ohio Ethics Commission regarding political signs located at the intersection of State Route 571 and State Route 201 in Bethel Township at Fisher’s residence. The complaint also asked for Fisher to be removed or suspended from the board.
Fisher is a Democratic representative on the board of elections. On Fisher’s property are four oversized signs thath support Sheriff David Duchak and Commissioner Gregory Simmons for the March 17 primary race.
In the letter, Hensley stated, “I will attempt to set my moral beliefs to the side, as I loathe the idea of these candidates stooping so low as to enlist opposing party members for help, I believe this clearly violated the Ohio Secretary of State’s Ethics policy for Board of Elections members, regardless of party.” Hensley also stated, “Publicly supporting candidates from a different party in the most public way possible creates the appearance of impropriety and undermines confidence in Ohio election officials.”
Deputy director Ian Ridgeway said he contacted the Miami County Prosecutor’s Office and found no violation of ethics of the signs or board member rules. Ridgeway said he also received a phone call from the Secretary of State’s legal office regarding the complaint. The SOS official stated there was no ethical concerns and they’d likely not take any response to the complaint.
Republican representative Jim Oda said it’s not a secret the board isn’t neutral and members must declare party affiliation.
“I reviewed the Ohio Secretary of State’s ethics policy. I don’t see anywhere in this policy that prohibits campaign yard signs in a board member’s yard,” Rob Long said. Long, a Republican representative on the board, later said policy does allow board members to engage in political activities as long as they are not performing official duties.
“If you first identify yourself as a board of elections official, you can’t take a stance for or against a candidate or issue, but in the privacy of your own home, go for it,” Ridgeway said. “I can sit at home and say, I’m Ian and I support this candidate. I can’t say, I’m Ian, board of elections deputy director, and I support X candidate, which is the extent of the conversation from the prosecutor’s office and the Secretary of State’s office.”
Fisher commented the signs at his home are now lit and “look nice at night.” Board member and Democratic representative Audrey Gillespie stated “for the record, I don’t have any political signs in my yard.”
• The board approved to contract with River Valley Security, a local vendor, for security system installation and service for a cost of $3,230. The company was recommended by the county’s IT department and the equipment can be re-installed at a new office location. The purchase will be made using state funding specifically for security upgrades at election boards.
• There were two candidate who withdrew from the Republican Central Committee primary race. Nicholas Brewski of Huber Heights-B withdrew due to accepting a job with the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Jamie Watkins, of Tipp City-B, withdrew due to change of address.
• The board approved to contract with the West Milton Rotary Club for delivery of the voting machines for $3,952. It was the only bid submitted to the board. Ridgeway said they will provide three trucks and have three delivery routes.
• Prior to the business portion of the meeting, the board adjourned into executive session. Fisher, Long, Jim Oda and Ridgeway joined Miami County Prosecutor Tony Kendell and assistant prosecutor Chris Englert for a phone conference with legal counsel. No action was taken.
Board member Audrey Gillespie joined the board following the executive session for the remainder of the meeting and all board action.
• Ridgeway reported 99.9 percent of the former elections equipment has been disposed of by a Columbus firm that specializes in computer equipment recycling. The wooden boxes for the old equipment will likely be donated to local schools for use.
• The board of elections recessed until the March 17 Primary and will reconvene at 6 p.m. that day at the office.
Reach Melanie Yingst at email@example.com
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