EATON — The Preble County Board of Commissioners noted receipt of a letter from the county Board of Elections (BOE) during its meeting on Wednesday, July 24 in regards to the courthouse not being ADA compliant.
In the letter, the BOE threatened legal action if the Commissioners could not come to a decision by Friday, July 26 regarding the relocation of the Board of Elections to the building at 601 Hillcrest Drive, Eaton, which used to be the Art Center building.
The letter reads, “The Preble County Board of Elections (BOE) has deemed it necessary to procure new office and storage space outside of the Preble County Courthouse due to the recent ADA assessment completed by the Ohio Secretary of State ADA Coordinator, Brett Harbage; Department of Homeland Security (DHS) physical and cyber security guidelines set forth by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office (SOS); and the lack of secured storage area for the new acquired voting equipment.
“The ADA assessment revealed twenty-five non-compliant issues at the Preble County Courthouse. The Major non-compliant issues were the lack of handicap parking spaces, slopes of ramps, and the Courthouse elevator. The lack of a parking area and access to the Courthouse is detrimental to all citizens who seek services from the BOE, as the public may only conduct some of its business (such as Early Voting and filing petitions) with the BOE in the BOE office, not online or through the mail.
“Moreover, this information was available to your office two years ago when our board chairperson sent a letter to your board clerk/assistant administrator dated July 6, 2017, informing you that there were ADA compliance issues that could be rectified during the plaza renovation. This office must be accessible.
“Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, is requiring all board of elections in the State of Ohio to comply with DHS standards for physical and cyber security. During the Early Voting period, in our county, the voter votes in a non-secured public common area which is non-private, poorly-lit, and full of distractions. The secured storage area provided for the new voting equipment in the courthouse basement is inadequate and non-compliant with DHS standards. A new, nearly $45,000, tabulation scanner is even unable to be stored securely because of the inability to move it to the secured basement area due to the small size of the elevator.
“We, the Preble County Board of Elections, have presented several possible options for new office and storage space outside of the Courthouse which you have rejected. As our current office situation exists, we find that we are unable to serve the public adequately in our daily operations, with such operations including: voter registration, change of name and address, petitions, campaign finance, Early Voting, and all other requirements of the SOS.
“Some of the encounters require the public to enter our office in the courthouse and cannot be done online. The current courthouse office and storage space is not acceptable according to ADA and DHS standards, and therefore is not acceptable for the Board of Elections to operate within. Barriers are in existence keeping the public from fully accessing the BOE, which is a violation of the ADA.
“We are aware of a building located at 601 Hillcrest Drive, Eaton, Ohio 45320 which meets our requirements and is currently available on county-owned land. The Preble County Board of Elections requests the Preble County Board of Commissioners to procure the building at 601 Hillcrest Drive, Eaton, Ohio 45320 for the Preble County Board of Elections’ office and storage space as soon as possible. This procurement will ensure access to all citizens of Preble County and to meet the standards required.
“The Preble County Board of Elections request a written decision from the Preble County Board of Commissioners concerning this procurement by 4 p.m., Friday, July 26, 2019. If due consideration is not given to our request to procure the building at 601 Hillcrest Drive, Eaton, Ohio 45320, the Preble County Board of Elections will be forced to seek outside legal counsel to aid in determining the Board of Elections next course of action to remedy the situation.”
On Wednesday, July 24, the Preble County Board of Commissioners noted receipt of the above letter. The board agreed that it would be hard to get the BOE a response by Friday, as a deal would have to be made with the art center for the purchase of their building.
“I’m not trying to delay by any means, but that is something we would have to talk to the art center – there are a lot of moving parts to this,” Commissioner Rodney Creech said.
“We have a lot to process, and I guess, quite frankly, I am disturbed by this letter. We have a lot of moving parts we will have to deal with, and for them to give us an ultimatum. What has happened in the past here has worked, and made it work. The guy can come up here and take pictures and do everything he wants, but if you read this document here, there are ways to make this building compliant,” Commissioner Chris Day said.
Commissioner Denise Robertson added there are temporary ways to make the Preble County Courthouse accessible.
The art center building on Hillcrest Drive was built on Preble County owned land with a longterm agreement. According to Commission Clerk Kim Keller, the Art Center cannot sell their building without negating their lease and when they negate their lease, it becomes county property.
“They can’t sell it, so we can’t buy it. They’re not going to go for that,” Keller said. “That building was to them, based on the fact that they use it for art stuff. If they try to sell it, they’re not using it for art.”
Day added, they cannot “give people money” and until the art center walks away from the building, the Commissioners don’t have any rights to the building.
“(Prosecutor) Marty (Votel) did say that we could do some type of agreement, but he negated that by saying that we cannot give money away,” Day said. “He said, if they walk away, then the building is ours, then we could sell it.”
Commissioner Creech said they could sell the art center the land, have them sell the property, and then purchase it.
“Do you know how long that (would) take?” Commissioner Day asked.
Commissioner Creech agreed that it would be impossible to get Board of Elections an answer by Friday.
The Board of Commissioners went into Executive Session with Assistant Prosecutor Eric Marit to discuss the matter. When they returned, Commissioner Day said in response to the letter, the board should draft an official response and allow the Commission President to talk with a BOE representative in person.
“Basically, we cannot give them a response to this and discuss that with them, based upon the time frame they have requested, along with the multiple layers of issues we have full filling their request,” Day said.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH