EATON — Preble County Commissioners and representatives of the Preble County Board of Elections walked through office space the commission has proposed for the BOE at the Junction Village Mall location on Monday, Nov. 29.
During their Wednesday, Dec. 1, meeting commissioners noted receipt of a letter from BOE Director Terri Hans referencing the walk-through and the proposed space, and requested additional space and structural changes never proposed by the commission.
The letter from Hans noted, “We appreciate the opportunity you gave us to walk through the potential office space at Junction Village with you on Nov. 29. After reflecting on the allotted spaces which you have designated for the Board of Elections, we are requesting the following spaces on the enclosed Junction Village Mall floor plan be considered all office and secured storage areas for the Preble County Board of Elections, Space #5, #6, #7.”
Spaces #5, #6 and #7 are the former locations of Purely CBD, the OSP Driver Examination Station, and the current location of The Register-Herald.
The letter continues, “We also request the squaring off of the angled northwest corner of Space #5.
“The Preble County Board of Elections is ready to proceed with a joint meeting between an architect and the Secretary of State’s designated personnel, Physical Security Michael Brewer and ADA Coordinator Brett Harbage. If the architect’s design doesn’t include adequate space for early voting and training, is there available space behind the public restrooms to which we could expand?
“We all share the common goal of providing fair and secure elections for the voters of Preble County and the Board of Elections appreciates your assistance in locating potential office space,” the letter concludes.
At least one commissioner was “confused” by the BOE’s request.
“I felt like the meeting went well,” Commissioner Adam Craft said. “And the representative from the State Secretary of State’s office, if he said it once, he probably said it a dozen times — he’s over five other counties that are similar in size to ours. Actually, our original proposal was giving them more space than those five counties have currently. And he was very comfortable with both the ability to properly secure rooms we offered them, and also to be able to function efficiently in the space.
“So, I’m a little confused after having seen this letter this morning from them, that they are requesting structural change, and a tremendous amount of space additionally,” Craft continued.
Some of the additional requested space was originally planned to be a shared meeting space for zoning and other meetings.
“This whole proposal was never discussed,” Craft added. “This was never discussed, nor would we have considered it because of the structural layout of that building. It just wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t know where that’s coming from. I mean, especially considering we have stayed involved. We had everybody seemingly comfortable with the proposed locations. So, my question is, where do we go from here and how do we handle it?”
“I say let’s send it over to the attorney,” Commission President Rachael Vonderhaar said, adding, “Numerous times we have gone above and beyond.”
The Preble County BOE currently has legal action filed against the commissioners in their quest for larger, more secure and accessible office space.
“If I may, I would like to offer a solution,” Craft said. “I feel like at this point there is no sitting around talking, because every time we do it, they tell us one thing and then they move the goalposts. I would propose that if the board so chooses, we send the attorneys two options — option A being the property across the road and option B being the lesser of these two, because clearly, they’re negotiating for the most space that they can possibly get. I think our counteroffer should be ‘these are your two options.’”
According to commissioners, the Ohio Secretary of State is already on board with the proposed location and said the third space wasn’t needed for early voting.
“He was comfortable with everything,” Craft said. “So how we got here again, is beyond my wildest fantasy. We’ve bent over backwards.”
Commissioners entered into executive session during their meeting on Wednesday to discuss the legal issue.