PREBLE COUNTY — Preble County Board of Elections (BOE) is claiming its fourth-floor secure storage area was entered without members’ knowledge and cleaned.
The board reported this breech of protocol to the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State and received reprimand for their delay in reporting the incident.
BOE was asked to check security cameras and to update representatives as to any investigation. However, BOE representatives claim they were told by the Preble County Commissioners there are no security cameras which could shed light on the situation.
On Nov. 25, BOE Director Terri Hans sent a letter to the Preble County Commissioners, with Ohio Secretary of State office’s Adam Rapien, Ohio Secretary of State Regional Liaison Kenny Henning, and Bob Baker with Preble County Maintenance, copied.
It read, “On Friday, Nov. 15, we went up to our fourth-floor secured storage area and found it had been entered and cleaned. When last in the room Thursday, Oct. 10, the room looked pretty much as it has for quite some time — peeling paint chips, surface dust coating from walls and ceiling. Presently, there is no low hanging chips or surface dust coating on anything, anywhere.
“While the intentions behind this action may have been good, we cannot allow anyone to enter this secured area without the presence of representatives of the Board of Elections. We contacted the maintenance department, Bob Baker, Monday the 18th of November asking if he or any of his staff had cleaned our secured area on the fourth floor and Bob got back with us just a few minutes later stating that, ‘We don’t have keys to get in that room. We would have to get with you to get in there.’ Because this breech is now even more perplexing, we will be resecuring our fourth-floor secured storage area again to fully take care of the breech incident.
“We as a board are obligated by directives given to us by the Secretary of State to keep these areas completely secure and we have been advised by our legal counsel, assistant prosecuting attorney Andrew Hinders, that we must report this breech to the Secretary of State Office, which we have sent a copy of this letter to. (2019-07 Directive).
“The board would ask that you assist us in complying with the Secretary of State’s regulations in maintaining the required security of our basement and fourth-floor storage areas so that the voters of Preble County can be assured that their elections are fair and accurate. Again, no one may access our secured storage areas without the permission of the Board of Elections or its representatives.”
On Dec. 2, Director Hans sent the following letter to the Ohio Secretary of State Office, to the attention of Adam Rapien, Director of Regional Liaisons, “The Preble County Board of Elections is notifying the Ohio Secretary of State Office of a possible breech in our Courthouse fourth-floor secured storage area. The attached letter and email were presented to the Board of the Preble County Commissioners this morning, Dec. 2, 2019, during a meeting with the Board of Elections and the County Commissioners.
“Please be advised the Preble County Board of Elections will immediately rectify the fourth-floor security issue.”
That same day, Amanda M Grandjean Esq., Director of Elections and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, sent a reply to Preble County Board of Elections.
It read, “Thank you for providing Adam with a document regarding a potential security event. Directive 2019-07 requires all boards of elections to report any security events immediately.
“It appears this potential event occurred on or around Nov. 15. It is unacceptable to wait to report any security event. I am extremely concerned that the board of elections chose to wait to notify our office of a potential unauthorized access to a secure area. There is no record of any report to this office until today.
“Has there been an investigation conducted? Has the board checked any security cameras?”
In response to the original letter, all three Preble County Commissioners signed a letter to BOE Chairperson Lisa Bruns dated Dec. 9 that read, “As you know, the Board of Elections recently brought in the ADA Coordinator for the Secretary of State’s Office. The Board of Elections asked the ADA Coordinator to review the Preble County Courthouse. When a report showed that some parts of the building needed improvement, the County acted swiftly. The County reviewed a report drafted by an independent third-party, Stephen Simmons, P.E. While Simmons’ report concluded that some areas comply with the ADA, others needed improvement. The County made immediate improvements based on Mr. Simmons’ recommendation. And the County passed emergency legislation to fix the parking lot, which requires a significant investment of county funds.
“During our regular meeting on Dec. 2, 2019, the Board of Elections raised new concerns about the condition of the Preble County Courthouse. There is no dispute that the County takes the health and safety of its citizens and employees seriously, so thank you for bringing these new concerns to our attention. As it has in the past, the County will hire a third-party to assess these new concerns. It will then take immediate and appropriate action.
“We also received your letter dated Nov. 25, 2019. According to your letter, you think ‘someone’ entered a Board of Elections room. You reached this conclusion because ‘there is no low hanging chips or surface dust’ in the room. Of course, election security is a serious matter. But you neglected to mention that the Board of Elections authorized the collection of paint and dust samples. Our assumption is that your contractor entered the room and collected samples, but the County is reviewing security footage to be safe. We will also notify the Secretary of State that this is the case.
“It is beyond frustrating that you and the Board of Elections continue to bring these issues to the County after contacting others. We understand that the Board of Elections wants its own building. That is not going to happen. At a cost of more than $350,000, it is not good governance. The County saves hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars by using the Preble County Courthouse for multiple purposes. It is in the best interest of taxpayers to continue to do so. And that will continue to be the case as the County makes ongoing investments in the facility.
“If you or the Board of Elections have future issues regarding the building, then please raise them with the County before contacting outside agencies. We must work together in a civil manner for the benefit of the people of Preble County. There are several advantages to this approach. For one, it gives us a chance to do our jobs, which includes maintaining county facilities. It also avoids unnecessary hand-wringing over problems that either may not exist or are easily fixed. Additionally, working together avoids the cost of dueling reports over the same issue, reducing the cost for taxpayers.
“Again, thank you for bringing these new concerns to the County’s attention. We look forward to working together in a way that benefits Preble County.”
Preble County Commissioners sent the letter to Kenny Henning, Ohio Secretary of State Regional Liaison, as well.
At press time, board member Gene Lindley said this was the first suspected double lock security violation Preble County Board of Elections had ever had and while they did not report the incident as soon as the Secretary of State Office would have liked, they will be more prompt in the future.
“We simply did not comply as quickly as the Secretary of State would have liked us to,” he said. “I don’t know if they took the threat too seriously, but we kind of violated what we were told to do, which will not happen again. [In the future], if there is a double lock violation, we will [notify the Secretary of State office immediately.] We couldn’t resolve who [cleaned the storage area.]”
Director Hans added, “We were told there [are not] security cameras.”
According to Lindley, when they told the Preble County Commissioners of the situation the conversation “did not go as well as it should have,” but it was never the board’s intention to accuse the Commission Office of anything.
Lindley added, “No one was accusing anybody of anything in the Commission Office. We were simply saying we had a suspected violation.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH