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Ohio Politics

Elections board reaches deal

By admin Published: October 19, 2010

By David Knox
Beacon Journal staff writer

A last-minute compromise ended a money standoff that jeopardized next month's election in Summit County.

In an agreement reached at a special meeting Monday, the county Board of Elections approved budget changes providing $200,000 to pay poll workers and other part-time employees needed to run the Nov. 2 general election.

Timothy J. Gorbach, one of two Democrats on the board, said that without action, the employees' payroll account would be exhausted before Election Day.

''We don't have enough to pay for the next pay period,'' he said.

Gorbach said he was confident the board had enough money in the budget to get through the year, but some accounts are running short. The solution was to transfer money from accounts that are flush, he said.

Gorbach's arguments were rejected by the two Republicans on the board, who called the proposal inadequate, saying it failed to address a $50,000 shortfall in the payroll account of full-time employees.

Board President Brian Daley blamed the Democrat-controlled Summit County Council for failing to provide an adequate budget.

''The county has an obligation to properly fund this board,'' Daley said. ''It's as simple as that.''

As an alternate resolution, Daley proposed transferring $50,000 for full-time employees and $100,000 for part-timers. Daley said the county should provide the remaining balance.

Both resolutions were blocked in 2-2 votes along party lines.

The deadlock was broken after board member Wayne Jones, head of the county Democratic Party, agreed to ask the county to make up any shortfall in pay for full-time employees.

''I'm willing to support that,'' Jones said.

Ray Weber, the second Republican on the board, asked Gorbach if he would join Jones.

Gorbach declined, saying there was ample time to address any shortfall in paying full-time employees.

And he pointed out that his vote wasn't needed to approve a request to County Council for more money.

After a brief heads-together exchange, Daley and Weber voted to transfer the full $200,000 to the part-timers.

The agreement was a seldom-seen example of political compromise on a board rife with bitter disagreements over budget and staff cuts.

Monday's meeting began with partisan rancor. After Marijean Donofrio, the board's director and a Democrat, outlined details of the proposed budget changes, Daley asked Ron Koehler, the board's deputy director and a Republican, to comment.

''I'm really uncomfortable with any partial resolution that doesn't take care of the glaring issue of not having enough money in our full-time salary line to get us to the end of the year,'' he said.

Gorbach asked Koehler, who was appointed deputy director in March, why he didn't address that issue earlier this year.

''I've been discussing this with the director over the last three or four months and every time I bring it up to her, she says, 'Don't worry about it. We'll get more money from County Council.' ''

Donofrio broke in.

''That's totally untrue. I have never said that.'' she said.

Koehler responded: ''You repeatedly said, 'Don't worry. County Council will come up with more money.' ''

Donofrio repeated, ''I never, ever said that.''

The board's most recent running dispute is over the county's in-person early voting site at the Job Center, 1040 E. Tallmadge Ave., in Akron.

Republicans call the center an extravagance the county can't afford. They contend that the comparatively few in-person voters — so far, about a quarter fewer than voted early in 2008 — can be handled at the board's headquarters on Grant Street in Akron.

Democrats predict an increase in early balloting as Election Day nears and argue that the Job Center is more convenient for voters.

So far, the Democrats are winning the early turnout competition. Democrats are about 35 percent of the county's registered voters. But, as of Monday, they make up nearly 65 percent of the 2,566 voters who have cast ballots in person.

About 16 percent of those who voted at the Job Center were Republicans. Republicans represent about 13 percent of voters.

Republicans are doing better among mail-in voters, requesting about 26 percent of all ballots sent out.

David Knox can be reached at 330-996-3532 or
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