EATON — Preble County Commissioners are currently in a legal battle with the Preble County Board of Elections (BOE). Now, the BOE is requesting $20,000 from the commissioners for court fees, in order to retain an attorney.
This discussion dates back to May of 2019, when BOE started asking to be housed in a new building. The BOE is claiming the Preble County Courthouse is unfit for its purposes and has had various tests conducted to prove its point and promote accessibility for voters in Preble County.
Commissioners have stated, they would rather fix the issues with the courthouse than purchase a new building, as it is more fiscally responsible.
This past fall, BOE was already working on suing the county commissioners, but according to Commissioner Rodney Creech, “backed down” after Secretary of State Frank LaRose toured the courthouse in October.
“We were headed toward a lawsuit from Board of Elections. [Then] Secretary of State Frank LaRose toured the courthouse. He said, number one, ‘you do have enough space here and it is not my job as Secretary of State to get you more space, it is my job to make sure you get the job done.’ That is what I heard him say, not necessarily verbatim. After he said that, the Board of Elections backed down. We thought it was pretty much business as usual,” Creech said.
“There were a couple letters that went back and forth. Board of Elections did bring to our attention several ADA issues, where we were not in compliance, which we appreciate. We are in the midst of getting those fixed as we speak. We are putting in either four or five new parking spots on the east side of the building. Our ADA compliance will probably go from a ‘B’ to an ‘A-‘. We still have things we need to work on, but we will be ADA compliant.”
According to Creech, three weeks ago, the commissioners had a meeting set up with Board of Elections about storage. During that meeting, results were shared from radon, mold, and lead paint testing BOE had done over a weekend without first notifying the commissioners.
“We didn’t know why they were coming in, but they came in and [Chairperson] Lisa Bruns brought in reports on radon levels, lead paint, and mold. We had no idea any testing was being done in the building and they even brought in some employees from the areas they were having tested. They were trying to create an issue, just like with the ADA compliance. They were trying to make this building so it wasn’t suitable for them,” he said.
Creech added, as far as he is aware, there had never been radon testing completed on the building. BOE’s results showed radon levels were higher than they “should be.” There were no issues with mold and lead paint is easily handled by sealing with new paint.
“Radon levels were higher than they ‘should be.’ The results showed radon levels average 7.4, when they are supposed to be four. We ended up bringing in an external company, because we wanted to get a second opinion. We wanted our own results to see where we were. They came back and in five areas we tested, I believe four of them averaged less than four and one averaged seven,” he said.
“In talking to professionals, we’ve learned the levels that are obtained in a residential structure should be four or below, and commercial structures should be 20 and below. We’re a little higher than the residential levels and lower than the commercial building. The discussions [the Board of Commissioners have had have indicated], during reconstruction of the basement, we will come up with a system that will move air in and out and eliminate the radon issues.
“Radon is a normal gas that is given off and you have to deal with it. [The Preble County Courthouse] is not contaminated or abnormal. The issue has been brought to our attention and we are going to deal with it moving forward.”
He added, Microfilm was the area that averaged above seven and since then, the two employees of Microfilm have been moved to the annex building until the issue can be resolved.
According to Creech, BOE is now asking for “tax payer dollars” to sue the county and move out of the courthouse. They are requesting $20,000 for court fees.
“Once the lawsuit was dropped [this past fall], we thought the issue was going away. Now, they’re back and going through the court, since we won’t give them the money. All three commissioners got served — they want $20,000 to hire outside legal counsel,” he said.
Creech admits there has been “childish” behavior on both BOE and the Commission Office’s side, but believes there is a way for both boards to come together and work towards making the Preble County Courthouse work for BOE.
“Lisa Bruns’ goal is to point out everything wrong with this building, so BOE can move out of it. We are blessed to have a 100-year-old structure that is in such good shape. To me, it comes down to, we have square footage and we need to maximize the square footage that we have. The area we’re asking them to use for storage is in the basement. I think like most home owners and businesses, that is what basements are used for,” he said.
“As long as it is suitable storage, as far as temperature, humidity, and other, there is no reason we should have to go out and buy or purchase another structure when we have what we need here. I told [BOE], whatever you need, let us know, we’ll take care of you. We’re planning on doing serious construction down there, so it is easier to get in and out. We will do whatever it takes to make that basement work as a storage area.
“We need to sit down and work out these issues — we’re all on the same page. We’re going to stay in the courthouse, now, how do we make this work? In my opinion, the Board of Elections had issues with the building and, as they bring the issues to us, we see how important the issues are and if they are important to the quality or safety of our building, we will fix them.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH