Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Friday cast the tie-breaking vote in an issue that has divided the Butler County Board of Elections.
The controversy centers 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 second the motion and voted in favor with a 3-1 vote, with Republican member Judy Shelton the lone vote in opposition.
In his response Friday, Husted voted to eliminate the special assistant positions.
“…Prosecutor Gmoser’s findings of potential criminality, combined with the fundamental principle that it is neither proper nor necessary to provide full benefits at taxpayer expense to individuals who are not engaged in full-time public employment, lead me to conclude the elimination of the special assistant positions is the proper course of action,” he said.
Husted also declined to further consider Kern’s alleged improper conduct, citing a follow-up letter Gmoser sent him regarding the investigation.
In that letter, Gmoser told Husted he had instructed Kern not to discuss or bring the matter before the board and that he had acted appropriately.
“If the investigation had been seen to be compromised, the result may have been the same, but seen as a flawed investigation by the public at large,” he wrote.
“Consequently, I believe Mr. Kern acted appropriately as requested and nothing done by him or my office is inconsistent with the best interest of the Butler County Board of Elections.”
Kern learned of the employment issue from County Auditor Roger Reynolds.
On Nov. 6, the day after the election, a letter from Gmoser was hand delivered at the election board advising board members to get rid of Dixon and Hicks because they were receiving benefits as full-time employees without working the hours.
As election specialists, the men help seasonally with absentee voting at nursing homes, hospitals and jails. They also work two full days a year – on election day and the day before.
Combined, the two received about $200,000 in county-paid contributions toward their medical and dental insurance over 22 years. They each were paid $8,000 a year and had received raises last year of 14 percent, amounting to about $1,000 apiece.
Gmoser, who had enlisted state authorities to investigate, wrote that the expenditures were “considered not only improper, but illegal and potentially criminal in nature.”
Sheila McLaughlin contributed