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Elections chief resigns, 4 staff are suspended: Shakeout follows election count
Toledo Blade. December 4, 2004. By Fritz Wenzel, Blade political writer.

An extensive housecleaning in the Lucas County elections office was announced yesterday with Elections Director Paula Hicks-Hudson resigning and four other officials suspended pending investigation into problems with the official count of the Nov. 2 election.
The county, which certified its vote Wednesday, will have to amend its official certification with the state, in part because of an apparent failure of employees to properly do their jobs, board Chairman Bernadette Noe said.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said yesterday that Mr. Blackwell "continues to have grave concerns" about the performance of the county elections office, and said he will soon intercede to make changes.

"We are reviewing the election administration practices of the board, and continue to have concerns with the board staff and board members," spokesman Carlo LoParo said.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson, who presided over almost-constant turmoil since joining the staff in May, 2002, said she plans to leave by the end of the year.

Also announced was the suspension of two of four supervisors, Ms. Hicks-Hudson's top assistant, and a fourth worker. Ms. Noe said she is concerned about the job performance of the four, but declined to provide any details pending the outcome of the investigation, which should be finished next week.

The four employees, who were suspended with pay, include supervisors Larry Loutzenhiser, a Democrat, and Bruce Temple, a Republican, both longtime employees.

Mr. Loutzenhiser was deputy director until he was demoted in 2002 following extensive investigations by Mr. Blackwell's office and by the prosecutor's office.

Following those probes, then-director Antoinette Szuch was forced into retirement, and her top aide and another supervisor were fired.

Mr. Temple was in charge of the board of elections warehouse operation.

The other two employees to be suspended are Paula Lykowski, a Democrat who was the top assistant to Ms. Hicks-Hudson, and Lori Christie, a Republican employee.

The board is set to meet again on Wednesday to discuss its internal investigation, and to take action on the suspended employees, Ms. Noe said.

Mr. LoParo said both board and staff members will be terminated, he said, but declined to give any more detail. The board has been under state administrative oversight since 2002. Representatives of Mr. Blackwell's office have maintained a steady presence in the county office to monitor its activities.

Secretary Blackwell is set to certify the statewide vote on Monday. The changes in the Lucas County totals are minor, Ms. Noe said, and will be reflected later in the state totals.

While a recertification is not a regular practice for counties around the state, it is also not unprecedented, she said.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson, hired as deputy director, took over the top elections post only last spring after Director Joe Kidd was terminated after presiding over a troubled March presidential primary.

Mr. Blackwell's intervention notwithstanding, it is the responsibility of the four members of the governing board to choose a replacement for Ms. Hicks-Hudson. Because Ms. Hicks-Hudson is a Democrat, Democratic board members Paula Ross and Diane Brown will offer candidates for the post.

Ms. Ross said yesterday she had no one in mind.

The vacancy also highlights an ongoing split in the local Democratic Party between Ms. Ross, who was tossed from the party chairmanship last spring, and new Chairman Sandy Isenberg, who ousted her. One of Ms. Isenberg's first initiatives after taking over was an effort to get Ms. Ross removed from the elections board, but to no avail. Now both women pledge to work together to find a new director for the office.

"I would hope that I would be able to talk to Paula and Diane, all issues aside, and that we could come up with someone really good, that would be able to go through the maze of all those issues at the board of elections," Ms. Isenberg said. "I am hopeful that can happen."

Ms. Ross also pledged cooperation with Ms. Isenberg, but said she and Ms. Brown would ultimately decide on a candidate.

The new director also will have to win the support of at least one Republican - either Ms. Noe or board member Sam Thurber.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:
or 419-724-6134.

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