The director of the Summit County Board of Elections resigned Friday, after being told that his contract wouldn’t be renewed at the board’s upcoming reorganization meeting.
That meeting — on March 5 — falls the day before the presidential primary, which has some concerned about the timing of such a change. Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, said he asked GOP director Ron Koehler to reconsider, but later learned the board’s two Republicans made the decision not to rehire him.
“This is a presidential election year with a primary in March,” Gorbach said. “We need his leadership to get through this year.”
Gorbach said Koehler, who was hired in March 2010, has more time at the board than Kim Zurz, the board’s Democratic deputy director. Zurz was hired last April to replace Marijean Donofrio, the board’s director who retired.
“We need both those positions filled with individuals that have experience in running that board and running elections,” Gorbach said.
Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member, said the legislature set the reorganization date for elections boards and chose the primary — and the two happened to be at about the same time.
“We have to follow the legal scheme put together by the legislature,” he said. “These are tough times. We need strong leadership.”
The change comes at a tumultuous time, with the board in the midst of a battle with Summit County over its budget.
The board is considering serious cuts, including significantly reducing precincts and not offering an outside location for in-person early voting in November, to meet the reduced budget the county is providing.
To answer these challenges, the Republican board members said they want a director with experience in budgeting and management. The board will advertise for the position.
“I’m sort of a believer that you don’t necessarily do business as usual,” said Ray Weber, the second Republican board member. “When you’ve got something you call ‘reorganization,’ you take it seriously.”
Weber said most of the preparation for the election will be completed before the reorganizational meeting, and he doesn’t expect the change to impact the election.
Arshinkoff pointed out that Donofrio retired — and Zurz took over — just before an election last year.
“These things happen,” he said. “I’m sure the D’s are worried about who our choice is.”
Weber said Bryan Williams, whom Koehler replaced, won’t be returning to the board. Williams, who worked at the board for six years, left to become a lobbyist, though he is still active in the local party.
As for who the Republicans will hire, Weber said they will consider anyone who applies, provided that they are strongly loyal to the party. Kim Arnold, who is Koehler’s assistant, may be among the applicants.
Zurz said Koehler worked hard to try to improve the board and its processes, and his legal background was an asset.
“The focus was on the best way to run the board for the citizens of Summit County,” she said. “That is what we should be concerned with.”
Koehler, an attorney and former Springfield Township trustee, said in his short letter to board members that he was giving his resignation “with sadness.”
“I will do anything you want me to do to assist the board in conducting that election and facilitating a smooth transition,” he wrote.
His annual salary was $105,090.
Koehler said in a phone interview that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve as director for two years and was impressed with the hard work and dedication of the board’s employees. He said he plans to work until March 5 getting the board ready for the election.
“After that, I don’t know,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.