by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
March 30, 2007
As the third of four members of the Cuyahoga (Cleveland) County Board of Elections resigns under pressure from Ohio’s new Secretary of State, additional potential illegalities in Hocking County have resurfaced with new weight against a GOP executive director already under serious fire.
The four members of the Cuyahoga BOE have been asked to resign by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat elected in November, 2006. Brunner has issued a stinging five-point complaint, much of which derives from the report done by U.S. Congressman John Conyers in the wake of the 2004 presidential election, and on reporting done at https://freepress.org/ and research by grassroots election protection activists.
The two Democratic members of the board have already resigned. On March 27, Sally D. Florkiewicz, a Republican , became the third to depart the board. Her departure leaves just Robert Bennett, the BOE chair, clinging to his position. Bennett also chairs the Ohio Republican Party, and has long been one of the state’s most powerful politicians, with close ties to the White House. Many believe Bennett was the key point person, along with then-Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, in the theft of Ohio’s 2004 presidential election. Karl Rove is widely believed to have personally persuaded Bennett to stay on at the Cleveland-area BOE through the election.
Bennett’s position mirrors that of Tom Noe, former chair of the Lucas County (Toledo) BOE, once known as northern Ohio’s “Mr. Republican.” Like Bennett, Noe had close personal ties to George W. Bush and Ohio Governor Robert Taft. Taft, who left office earlier this year after his public approval ratings sank as low as 7%, pleaded no contest to four misdemeanors involving favors taken from Noe. Noe has since been convicted of a wide range of crimes ranging from illegal campaign contributions to the mishandling of state funds. He is now in prison.
Florkiewicz’s resignation letter charges that “the Secretary of State has decided to use the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to advance a partisan agenda.” Bennett is saying much the same as he refuses to resign. But he now, on behalf of the board he has chaired, faces a wide range of charges involving, among other things, the mishandling of public funds that resulted in taxpayer expenditures of at least an additional $12,900,000 above original budget.
For Bennett to resign would widely be viewed as admission of guilt. But a firestorm of controversy is certain to erupt should Bennett attempt to stand up to Brunner’s complaint.
The public hearing she has demanded is currently scheduled to begin April 2. However, Bennett’s taxpayer-funded special counsel, Stan Chesley, has filed a motion in court to stop it. Pending the court’s review, Brunner’s counsel John Ferron agreed to delay the hearing for a week, according to Cliff Arnebeck who is closely monitoring the case and spoke with Ferron Thursday afternoon. “With all of these fireworks it will become more and more difficult for some of the Ohio editorial boards to maintain their position that the 2004 election was not stolen,” said Arnebeck.
Meanwhile, another GOP county election official is also under intensifying fire. Lisa Schwartze, executive director of the Hocking County BOE, has been charged with allowing an unmonitored manipulation of electronic memory drives before the 2004 recount could be completed. A memo purportedly written by Schwartze also directs poll workers to recount a precinct chosen deliberately by Schwartze, rather than at random, as the law demands. Two Cuyahoga County poll workers have been convicted of felonies for similar behavior, and have each been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Schwartze’s offenses, however, may not stop there. According to sworn affidavits from Sherole Eaton, former Hocking County DOE assistant director, Schwartze publicly bragged of having held Republican Party fundraisers in her executive director’s office, a clear illegality. Schwartze may also have organized the fundraisers while being paid by the county to do her allegedly non-partisan job as executive director.
Schwartze may also have supervised the shredding of voter registration rolls leading up to the 2004 election. Eaton’s under-oath testimony strongly indicates this destruction of vital public records may also have been illegal.
Like Bennett, Schwartze has long been a high-profile associate of Blackwell’s, and apparently played a key role in delivering Ohio’s electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2004. Whether she did so illegally remains to be seen.
But the fire Jennifer Brunner has set in Cleveland now seems very likely to spread to the rest of Ohio’s 88 counties. Hocking’s Schwartze is almost certain to join Bob Bennett among those feeling the heat.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of three books on Ohio’s recent elections which are avaliable, along with their reportage, at www.freepress.org.
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