The Butler County Board of Elections on Monday abolished two controversial full-time positions after Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the jobs should be eliminated.
But members decided to hold off until early next year on whether to bring the election specialist positions back as part-time.
Earlier this month, Husted cast the tie-breaking vote in an issue that divided the Butler County Board of Elections.
The controversy centered on two election employees — one of them County Commissioner Don Dixon’s son — who were being given full-time health and retirement benefits for part-time work.
The two men, Brent Dixon, a Republican, and Garry Hicks, a Democrat, resigned after Republican board member Dave Kern last month publicly questioned the arrangement.
Democratic board member Bruce Carter called Kern’s actions “underhanded” and criticized him for bypassing the board and bringing the matter to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.
At its Nov. 25 meeting, board members split on Carter’s motion to reclassify the position from full- to part-time and allow Dixon and Hicks to come back as part-time election specialists. By law, Husted became the tiebreaker on the issue.
Carter called for Husted also to decide if Kern acted improperly and whether he should be dismissed. Kern seconded the motion and voted in favor with a 3-1 vote, with Republican member Judy Shelton the lone vote in opposition.
Two board of election employees – including the son of a county commissioner – resigned in the wake of allegations that they were receiving county-paid full-time benefits without working the hours.
Brent Dixon, a Republican, and Garry Hicks, a Democrat, resigned this month after Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser became involved and issued a “cease and desist” letter to the board of elections, Republican elections board member and Liberty Township Trustee Dave Kern told The Enquirer.
Kern said he began asking questions when he was notified by the county auditor that Dixon, who is the chief operating officer of his family’s Hillandale Communities nursing home business and is son of County Commissioner Don Dixon, and Hicks had received 14 percent raises this year and that the county was contributing toward their medical and pension benefits.
Reynolds said both are salaried employees making $8,000 a year.
Dixon was hired during the tenure of retired elections director Betty McGary, who is Don Dixon’s long-time fiance.
“There’s a lot of questions related to how Betty McGary would go along with this and authorized this as a director when it directly impacted Don Dixon’s son,” Reynolds said.
He said Butler County contributed more than $156,000 towards Brent Dixon’s medical insurance during his 22 years with the board of elections. Hicks was hired in 2001 and the county contributed about $35,000 toward his medical insurance premiums. Reynolds did not have figures for how much the county contributed toward their pensions.
Butler County commissioners have hired their fourth finance director since 2009.
Tawana Keels votes during a straw poll event in 2007. Photo by Tony Jones.
Commissioners this week hired Tawana Keels, a member of the Princeton Board of Education, as its latest budget chief, following the surprise resignation of Susanna Merlone.
Merlone resigned because she was having trouble selling her house in the Cleveland area, according to documents obtained by The Enquirer.
Merlone joined Butler County Jan. 7 after being laid off as as director of business service and human resources at Lorain County Joint Vocation School. Her salary was set at $93,000.
Another candidate for the job, Thomas Morrison, who came from out-of-state, was working on a try-out basis and was about to be hired when undisclosed information in his background came to light and commissioners rejected the hire, county officials said.
Morrison was set to replace Pete Landrum, who had served as finance director since 2009 and left in September for a job as Delhi Township administrator after a rocky three-year stint with the county.
Landrum hired a lawyer in late 2011 and threatened suit, saying he was repeatedly threatened and berated by Commissioner Cindy Carpenter and was denied a promised pay raise.
Carpenter had said that she was dissatisfied with Landrum’s performance and that she wanted to give him a written reprimand on a number of alleged issues. No disciplinary actions were taken against Landrum.
After at least three years of slashing expenses, layoffs and stagnant pay, Butler County’s budget woes seem to be easing up.
Commissioners are expected to approve a 2013 general fund budget of just more than $79 million, about the same as 2012.
They’ll vote Dec. 27.
A $1 million across-the-board cutback in county offices in September kept the county in the black for this year.
“I said a year ago that I thought we hit the bottom and were trending up. I think that’s true, although we have to keep a vigilant eye on expenditures,” Commissioner Don Dixon said Thursday after the budget proposal was presented.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter credited the sacrifices of office holders and employees, many of whom are doing two to three jobs with no increase in pay.
Projected casino revenue for the 2013 budget stands at about $4 million. The county will maintain its 10 percent cash reserves, Budget Manager Tonyia Burnett said.
County commissioners have trimmed the budget from $94.7 million in 2008.
The longtime clerk of Butler County Area Courts will retire this month to come back as a part-timer in February, allowing her to collect her pension as well as a salary.
Butler County commissioners on Monday approved the Nov. 30 retirement of Debbie Bolser. She’ll be rehired on Feb. 1. In the interim, deputy clerk Melinda Parsons will fill in for Bolser.
“There’s a savings of $36,000 a year by doing this,” Judge Rob Lyons, of Butler County Area I Court, told commissioners.
He said Bolser decided to retire now because of recent changes in public pension law. Reforms that go into effect in January raise retirement eligibility ages, set new guidelines for cost-of-living adjustments and created a new formula to calculate benefits.
Bolser, who has worked for the court for 34 years, had an annual salary of $67,535.78, according to the county auditor’s office.
Commissioner Chuck Furmon acknowledged that Bolser will be double-dipping.
“Yes. But she will be working part time so it’s a savings in that regard when she comes back,” he said. “She is really well qualified. She’s got her finger on everything that’s happening. She’s always been the go-to person.”
If Butler County voters had it their way, Mitt Romney would be the country’s next president – as more than 62 percent of the county’s voters selected Romney and 36 percent voted for President Barack Obama. Photo taken by Adam Kiefaber at Romney’s rally in West Chester Nov. 2, 2012.
To let West Chester and Liberty Township residents catch up with the news that they need to know, WestChesterBuzz.com will list and link to all of last week’s top local stories every Monday.
West Chester voters wanted Romney - A total 69 percent of Butler County voters came out to the polls on Election Day, and 62 percent of those voters selected Republican candidate Mitt Romney as their choice for president. However, the state of Ohio and the majority of the nation voted to re-elected President Barack Obama. Furthermore, in a WestChesterBuzz.com exit poll taken at West Chester/Liberty Township’s largest polling location had Romney with 63 percent of the vote and Obama with 36 percent of vote.
Sherrod Brown keeps US Senate seat - Sen. Sherrod Brown won a second term to the U.S. Senate last Tuesday – fending off a hard-charging, well-funded GOP challenger and more than $30 million in withering attack ads from outside groups in one of the most expensive and closely watched match-ups in the country.
Election 2012: Butler County roundup - A Republican newcomer from West Chester Township became the newest Butler County commissioner in preliminary election results with 100 percent of the vote counted, while Sheriff Rick Jones kept his job in a landslide vote.
Liberty Township’s Sharon Kennedy ousts Brown as justice - Butler County Judge Sharon Kennedy helped Republicans continue their dominance of Ohio’s Supreme Court last Tuesday with a win over Yvette McGee Brown, the only incumbent Democrat on the court. Kennedy also made history as the first Butler County resident elected to the state’s high court in almost 150 years.
Liberty Township Trustee president Christine Matacic and Carriage Hill co-manager Randy Terry unveil the 2013 Homearama sign during a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 8, 2012. Photo taken by Adam Kiefaber.
Carriage Hill could be Homearama’s ‘nicest’ location ever - Ground was officially broken last Thursday on what Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati executive director Dan Dressman called “one of the nicest locations” that has ever hosted its premier home showcase. Carriage Hill, which will have eight homes in this summer’s Homearama, features lakes, streams and woodlands spread throughout the 400-arce Liberty Township community.
Pair charged in possible hotel room meth lab in West Chester - Police arrested two suspects last Wednesday in connection to what they believed to be a potential meth lab in one of the rooms at the Tri-County Inn in West Chester. At around 8:30 a.m., the police received a report of a possible methamphetamine lab in a room at the local hotel. According to West Chester Police Public Affairs Officer Jeff Newman, precursors for a meth lab were found in room 417.
West Chester’s AK Steel imposes price hike - Shares of some U.S. steel manufacturers rose last Tuesday, a day after West Chester-based AK Steel Holding Corp. imposed a $50 per ton increase in spot market base prices for carbon flat-rolled steel used in such products as automobiles and appliances. AK Steel said Monday that the increase was effective immediately on new orders.
Lakota East junior quarterback Eric Eichler is swarmed by the Moeller defense in a 46-20 loss in the regional semifinals Nov. 10, 2012. Despite the loss, the Thunderhawks accomplished a lot in 2012. Photo taken by Joseph Fuqua II.
Moeller ends Thunderhawks postseason run - Northwestern commit Keith Watkins spoiled an early Lakota East lead by rushing for three second quarter touchdowns, which sparked Moeller to a 46-20 win in the regional semifinals at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium this past Saturday. The loss ends a surprising run for Thunderhawks, who qualified for the postseason for the first time in their 16-year history. Lakota East also won its first postseason game when it defeated Springboro 45-38 in overtime the previous Saturday and snapped a seven-game losing streak to rival Lakota West in the last week of the regular season.
Kristen Bitonte named Liberty Township administrator - Finance director Kristen Bitonte is Liberty Township’s new administrator. She was unanimously selected by trustees last Tuesday – just two weeks after Dina Minneci announced she was leaving to become Indian Hill’s city manager.
A Republican newcomer from West Chester Township became the newest Butler County commissioner in preliminary election results with 100 percent of the vote counted, while Sheriff Rick Jones kept his job in a landslide vote.
T.C. Rogers. The Enquirer/ Joseph Fuqua II.
And a countywide issue to provide about half of the $30 million budget to help abused and neglected kids got the nod, 61 percent to 39 percent.
A much needed 7.05-mill additional levy for the debt-ridden Monroe Schools passed 55 percent to 45 percent. The levy, proposed by the state-appointed Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, raises $2.5 million annually. The district is in fiscal emergency and under state control. The district is suing its former treasurer over the financial mess.
In the commission race, T.C. Rogers, a home builder and real estate agent, led the three-way contest through the night against Democrat Jodi Billerman of Liberty Township and Libertarian Daryl Olthaus of Milford Township. Rogers had 61 percent of the vote, while Billerman and Olthaus had 32 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
None of the candidates have held political office before.
All were campaigning on controlling spending and T.C. Rogers promised to create jobs. Butler County faces $1.7 million in cuts in its 2013 budget and has already trimmed about $900,000 to get through the end of this year.
The winner replaces longtime commissioner Chuck Furmon, who was ousted in the primary election in a three-way race with Rogers and state Rep. Courtney Combs. Combs lost his statehouse seat in January to term limits. Rogers beat out Combs by 13 votes in a recount.
A race for another commission seat held by Republican Don Dixon was uncontested.
In the sheriff’s race, Jones, a Republican, was handily beating independent challenger Dale Richter with 81 percent of the vote.
For Richter, a Springboro police officer, it was the third time he went up against Jones since 2004 and was walloped at the ballot box.
Also, locally, Republican Margaret Conditt comfortably won the 52nd District State Representative seat against Branden Rudie (Democrat) and Bob Coogan (Libertarian). Conditt had 66 percent of the vote, while Rudie and Coogan had 27 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
12:25 a.m. - 8405 of 9550 precincts reporting (88 percent) in Ohio, Obama has 2,389,891 votes and Romney has 2,377,364 votes.
11:59 p.m. - Despite it being called by many, 7854 of 9550 Precincts reporting in Ohio, President Barack Obama is behind with 2,275,618 (49 percent) to Republican candidate Mitt Romney 2,295,003 (49 percent).
In Butler County, 69 percent of the vote is in. 20 percent of that vote is from early voters. In this county, Romney (62 percent) leads Obama (36 percent). Mandel (59 percent) has the advantage over Brown (37 percent), Margaret Conditt (66 percent) leads Brenden Rudie (27 percent) and Robert Coogan (7 percent) for the State House Rep 52nd District, T.C. Rogers (61 percent) leads Jodi Billerman (32 percent) and Daryl Olthaus (7 percent) in the race for Butler County Commissioner.
In Hamilton County, just less than 59 percent of the vote is in, 19 percent of which are early voters. Obama maintains (50 percent) his lead against Romney (49 percent), Brown (51 percent) ahead of Mandel (45 percent).
11:19 p.m. - CBS News and NBC (according to Enquirer) just called the Election President Barack Obama will have four more years.
11:17 p.m. - Fox News just called the Election President Barack Obama will have four more years.
11:14 p.m. - Fox News just called Ohio with President Barack Obama taking Ohio against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The results right now have Obama with 50 percent of the vote and Romney with 48 percent with 70 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
10:53 p.m. - In Ohio, President Barack Obama (50 percent) is leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney (48 percent) with 65 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
10:30 p.m. - In Ohio, President Barack Obama (51 percent) is leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney (48 percent) with 50 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
In Butler County, 49 percent of the vote is in. 20 percent of that vote is from early voters. In this county, Romney (61 percent) leads Obama (37 percent). Mandel (58 percent) has the advantage over Brown (38 percent), Margaret Conditt (65 percent) leads Brenden Rudie (29 percent) and Robert Coogan (6 percent) for the State House Rep 52nd District, T.C. Rogers (60 percent) leads Jodi Billerman (33 percent) and Daryl Olthaus (7 percent) in the race for Butler County Commissioner.
In Hamilton County, almost 31 percent of the vote is in, 19 percent of which are early voters. Obama maintains (55 percent) his lead against Romney (44 percent), Brown (56 percent) ahead of Mandel (41 percent).
In Butler County, 35 percent of the vote is in. 20 percent of that vote is from early voters. In this county, Romney (60 percent) leads Obama (39 percent). Mandel (57 percent) has the advantage over Brown (39 percent), Margaret Conditt (64 percent) leads Brenden Rudie (30 percent) and Robert Coogan (6 percent) for the State House Rep 52nd District, T.C. Rogers (59 percent) leads Jodi Billerman (35 percent) and Daryl Olthaus (6 percent) in the race for Butler County Commissioner.
In Hamilton County, almost 29 percent of the vote is in, 19 percent of which are early voters. Obama maintains (56 percent) his lead against Romney (43 percent), Brown (56 percent) ahead of Mandel (40 percent).
8 p.m. - Results from Butler County’s absentee and early voters are in. That is almost 20 percent of the vote, which were cast by county residents before Election Day.
Of that vote, 47,585 of 239,993 registered voters, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (58 percent) is leading President Barack Obama (41 percent).
Furthermore, Josh Mandel (55 percent) leads Sherrod Brown (41 percent) for U.S. Senator, Margaret Conditt (62 percent) leads Benden Rudie (33 percent) and Robert Coogan (5 percent) for the State House Rep 52nd District, T.C. Rogers (57 percent) leads Jodi Billerman (38 percent) and Daryl Olthaus (5 percent) in the race for Butler County Commissioner.
In Ohio, so far, with 91 of 9,550 precincts reporting (1 percent) Obama has 59 percent of the vote and Romney has 40 percent, while Brown has 60 percent of the vote and Mandel has 36 percent.
With 19 percent of votes reported in Hamilton County – all early votes – Obama is up nearly 57 percent compared to Gov. Mitt Romney’s 42 percent. Third party candidates make up the remaining roughly 1 percent. That’s 60,774 votes for Obama and 45,327 for Romney.
EARLIER ON ELECTION DAY
Voter turnout has been strong in West Chester, according to Butler County Commission candidate T.C. Rogers and polling manager at Endeavor Elementary School Bob Tanis.
Despite the polls not opening for an hour, voters actually lined up at 5:30 a.m. at Endeavor Elementary in West Chester. Later that morning, the line grew and voters waited up to an hour to vote, according to Tanis. One voter said the wait was more than two hours, so she left and came back at 1 p.m. She then waited 30 minutes to cast her ballot.
West Chester resident Rick Human, who has lived in the same precinct for 20 years, said that this is the first time that he has ever had to wait in line to vote. Once he realized there was a line, Human exited the polling place to talk with Rogers, who has been visiting polling places throughout the county. Human did say that there is no line that would keep him from voting.
After turning in their ballots many West Chester residents were sensitive to participate in an exit poll. Of the 88 voters who voted at Endeavor and agreed to participate in the poll, 55 said they voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (63.2 percent), 32 voted for President Barack Obama (36.3 percent) and one voted for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
West Chester resident John Gorman votes at Endeavor Elementary School in West Chester, Ohio. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2012 by Adam Kiefaber of WestChesterBuzz.com. Lines at the school were up to an hour or two hours, depending on who you ask. In the afternoon, the wait was around 15-to-40 minutes.
One local resident, John Gorman, said he was voting for Obama despite calling himself a Republican. Gorman believes the Obama administration deserves a chance to finish what it has started.
In 2008, Gorman said he switched from voting for Republican candidate John McCain to Obama at the last minute. He admitted, at the time, he was “hoping” that it was going to be the right choice. This time, he said he is more certain then hopeful that he is voting for the right guy.
Mike Johnson of West Chester disagrees. He voted for Romney because he feels that there needs to be a change in leadership. He is concerned about the economy and thinks Obama is headed down the wrong path.
Johnson also said that Obamacare impacts what he does professionally, working in the medical device industry. He said Obama’s healthcare plan makes it more difficult to manufacture the medical devices due to high taxes and more regulations. Johnson refused to identify where he worked.
Johnson, although serious about voting for Romney, is not as passionate as some of the candidates’ (both Obama and Romney) supporters.
“I know if my candidate losses our country will survive,” Johnson said. “We are too strong to fail.”
Nearby in line, Joyce Koenig was passionately supporting Obama. She believes “Bush screwed it up” before Obama took office and that the current President deserves “a chance.”
Then there is West Chester’s Srinivas Rao, who went into vote today despite not knowing which presidential candidate to select. After leaving the polls, Rao said that he decided to vote for Romney because he thought it was time for a change. Like Gorman in 2008, Rao is hoping he made the right choice.
In all, a total of 4,208 voters share Endeavor Elementary has their polling location for the 2012 Election, making it the third most active polling place in Butler County.
Meanwhile, Garfield Middle School in Hamilton, potentially the second most active polling location in Butler County with six precincts and a total 4,723 registered voters, didn’t experience any lines in the morning or afternoon.
Garfield’s polling manager Wes Thirkield said voter turnout had been steady, but not one of the 937 voters who passed through by 3 p.m. had to wait more than a couple of minutes. Thirkield, who is an experienced Election Day volunteer in Hamilton, said he was worried about the crowd that may turn up after work.
Back in West Chester, House Speaker John Boehner told select media members after he voted that he was confident that voter turnout would propel Romney to victory in Ohio.
“I’ve never seen our team more energized from one end of the state to the other, and I’m feeling good about it,” said Boehner, who lives in the Wetherington Country Club community in West Chester. “I think Mitt Romney is going to win Ohio. Especially if all our team gets out and votes.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer has spread out its staff throughout Southwest Ohio to cover the 2012 Election. WestChesterBuzz.com will be sharing opinions of the voters and photos from West Chester and Liberty Township polls this afternoon. Then when the polls close at 7:30 p.m., the Buzz will post live election results from Butler County.
What we know right now, is that the Butler County Board of Elections had a little under 20 percent of its ballots returned before Election Day started. As of last evening, a total of 46,986 ballots had been returned via absentee or early voters. That is out of 239,878 registered voters in the county.
Obviously, this presidential election is much bigger than Butler County. To follow the extensive coverage of this Election Day by The Enquirer, visit Cincinnati.com and follow #ohel on Twitter.