In a situation that continues to develop, several filings were made with the Jackson County Board of Elections (BOE) Monday morning by the Jackson County Democratic Party in response to the selection of Luke Scott as the new Democratic staffer at the BOE, a decision that was made during a special BOE meeting on Friday, Nov. 19. Scott, a Wellston native and former Wellston City Councilman, is currently a deputy of elections operations in St. Lucie County, Florida.

Overall, according to Jackson County Democratic Party Chair Lisa Parker, the group takes issue with two things: That the vote for two new BOE staffers, one Republican and one Democrat, which was held in accordance with the planned departure of the current BOE Director and Deputy Director, Joanne Evans and Cheryl Lewis-Browning, next July, was taken during a special meeting of the BOE that was set for the purpose of conducting the official count for the 2021 General Election. (Both Parker and Bill DeMora, the Secretary of the Ohio Democratic Party, say that meeting was held for that purpose only, and that notice was not given regarding the vote for the new BOE staffers). Additionally, the BOE failed to approve the candidate chosen by the Jackson County Democratic Party.

Background

Parker told The Telegram that the Central and Executive Committees of the Jackson County Democratic Party held a special election for their recommendation for the position of Deputy Director of the BOE on Wednesday, Nov. 10. She says there were six total applicants, and that by the night of the election, three had withdrawn. Parker further states that all the candidates were qualified and that all voting committee members received advanced copies of the candidates’ respective resumes.

“After two ballots, Marsha Batey received the highest number of votes,” Parker explained in an email to numerous individuals and organizations, including The Telegram. “Marsha Batey was then presented to the Board, in writing, as our nominee for the position. Should Batey be unable, or turn out to be a convicted felon etc., then, and only then, was the second on the ballot, Luke Scott, to be nominated.”

Parker continued, explaining that former Democratic BOE member, Judy Brunton, passed away Sunday, Nov 14.

“I can tell you, since the ballots are not ‘secret,’ that Judy chose Batey as well for the position,” she says. “On Nov. 17, I was notified that we only had 15 days from the day of Judy’s passing to replace her on the BOE. I then sent out a notice of a special meeting to fill Judy’s position for Tuesday evening, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. Therefore, we would have our board member in place by the December BOE meeting. It was my understanding, before Judy’s death, that the positions of Director and Deputy Director would be voted on (as a formality), by the BOE at the December meeting. The Republicans set forth their nominee, and we set forth ours. There was no urgency! The replacement of Judy’s seat on the board should have been done first, then the vote for the Director and Deputy Director. The Director, Joanne Evans, Republican, and Deputy Director, Cheryl Lewis-Browning, Democrat, are not retiring until July 2022. There was plenty of time......unless we filled our Democratic open seat on the board first. Then the Republican members would not have been able to make our selection for us.”

Parker then pointed to the notice of the BOE’s special meeting on Nov. 19, which states its purpose as being for the official count for the 2021 General Election.

“It is not advertised as a ‘regular meeting,’ which are typically held on the first Wednesday of the month at 10 a.m. at the BOE,” Parker states in her email. “Today (Nov. 19) was advertised as the ‘Official Count.’ With only one Democratic board member present, the BOE decided, for no apparent reason, to vote for the two positions after certifying the election. Again, there was no urgency, except we were one Democrat on the board short. The Republican party nominee was nominated, seconded and voted for. The Democratic nominee was nominated by Rodney Smith and received no second (because we did not have another Democrat on the board) and died in nomination.”

Parker maintains that she was not notified at any time that this vote was going to take place.

Monday, Nov. 22

The Telegram reached out to several individuals on this matter, including the Executive Chair of the Jackson County Republican Party and current Jackson County Commissioner, Donnie Willis. When asked if the Central and Executive Committee members for his party convened prior to the Nov. 19 special BOE meeting to choose a candidate for one of the two BOE staffer positions, he said they did not. Rather, Willis said, in accordance with Ohio Revised Code (ORC), that decision was left to the BOE members. He pointed out that Central and Executive Committee members from either of the two major parties choose candidates for BOE members, and that those members are legally allowed to choose who BOE staffers will be. In other words, though it is customary for the BOE to go along with a recommendation for BOE staffers from Republican or Democratic Central and Executive Committee members, it is not required by law.

Not disagreeing with that statement, Ohio Democratic Party Secretary DeMora said any BOE voting on a given party’s recommendation for a BOE position, is almost always a “formality.”

“It is not the law that the BOE has to choose the person the party recommends,” DeMora told The Telegram over the phone Monday morning. “It’s not the law, but it’s customary.”

Secretary DeMora went on to say that this is the case in every county, even in Franklin County where the BOE is comprised of 60 to 70 representatives from each of the two political parties.

“If a Democratic spot comes open, the Democratic Chair who sits on the Board says, ‘I want to hire this person,’ and there’s never, ever an issue, except in a rare circumstance when someone may have a criminal background or something like that,” he said. “It’s a formality. If it’s not done this way, everything would end in a tie and would have to be sent to the Secretary of State for a decision on every matter of the BOE.”

DeMora, pointing to the fact that he has been the Secretary of the Ohio Democratic Party for 16 years and has been involved with the party since 1999, says this situation in Jackson County is not “a regular occurrence.”

“Boards of Election are supposed to be able to work together and hold elections in each of Ohio’s counties,” he said. “For one party to think they can totally disregard the will of the other party is just ridiculous. People don’t care about the quorum or civility anymore, they just want to do what they want, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The following filings were made by the Jackson County Democratic Party to the BOE Monday morning, Nov. 22:

* A cease-and-desist notification insisting that the BOE not forward the hiring of Merritt “Luke” Scott to the Ohio Secretary of State until such matter is resolved at the next regular BOE meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

* An amended nomination. This filing aims to amend the party’s nomination letter from Nov. 10 for Marsha Batey as the Jackson County BOE Deputy Director.

That filing, submitted by Parker, states, “Current Board members did not act in good faith, and failed to follow procedures and the law regarding the opening for the position of Deputy Director of the BOE. The Board did, in fact, act on a non-emergency appointment/hiring before the Democratic Party had the opportunity to replace the deceased board member, Judy Brunton, Democratic member, to allow for a legal and fair recommendation to the Secretary of State for Deputy Director. This was not a matter for a vote by the Jackson County BOE. Our lawfully party-elected selection is Marsha Batey. If the Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, finds Ms. Batey to be unfit for this office, he may submit to the Jackson Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee Chair, his objections, in writing, as required by the ORC. At that time, the Jackson County Democratic Party will act on the advisement of the Ohio Democratic Party and legal counsel.”

* An open record request for the “notice that the BOE was going into regular session after certifying the election as posted on the website for the ‘Special Meeting’ on Nov. 19, 2021. Without proper notice, this meeting may have been in violation of the Open Meetings Law (The Sunshine Law) ORC 121.22 (B)(1)(a); ORC 121.22 (B)(1)(b).”

* An open record request for a written letter from Ohio Secretary of State LaRose “stating the reason why the nominated party, Marsha Batey, duly elected and set forth by the Jackson County Democratic Party for the position of Deputy Director, would be deemed to be ‘not a competent member of the board.’”

* A request to rescind the nomination letter from Nov. 10 for Marsha Batey, making it null and void.

* A request to be included on the Dec. 1 BOE meeting agenda. Parker states in this filing, “I will ask the Chair for time to address the Board, and then request a vote to rescind the actions of the Board in an illegal meeting on Nov. 19, 2021, after the stated meeting to certify the vote. I will be requesting the Board table the filling of the two training positions until such time as the Democratic Party nominee can fill the unexpired term of Judy Brunton and is seated as a voting member.”

Current BOE Director Evans confirmed that these filings had been made Monday morning, and said they were being forwarded to Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Lovett, who would then advise the BOE on how to proceed.

At approximately 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Scott emailed BOE members, Deputy Director Lewis-Browning and Director Evans, stating that he was declining the offer for the position.

“While in applying for this position to be closer to family and bring my experience back to my home of Jackson County, it was never about a political party, it was about public service,” Scott stated in his email. “The recent events have shown me what the atmosphere in Jackson County will be, one that puts politics above people. I simply cannot represent the Democratic Party in its current state as Deputy Director. Doing so would be against everything I stand for. I wish the Jackson County Board of Elections all the best in their search for a new Deputy Director.”