Board of Elections sues county over new building

The Geauga County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit May 23 seeking a ruling on whether Geauga County commissioners should pay for critical logistical and design issues that the board says have still not been resolved.

The Geauga County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit May 23 seeking a ruling on whether Geauga County commissioners should pay for critical logistical and design issues that the board says have still not been resolved.

In filing to Geauga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Paschke, BOE claims commissioners failed to consider several critical aspects of election administration in the design of the new building from the county on Ravenwood Drive.

The BOE believes that this is a complicated and unsuitable arrangement for early voting and other election activities, and has insufficient storage space for “100 DS-200 voting machines, 40 voting machines express, 372 privacy booths, 79 ballot boxes and a huge number of tables. , A-frame signs, cabinets, cones, poles and pole bases, flags, carts, work lights, traffic signs, among other equipment and supplies needed to run an election in the county scale.

Additionally, the BOE is asking the court to pay for a chemical fire suppression system that would not damage the council’s voting machines in an emergency.

In a June 7 press release, County Administrator Gerry Morgan said the BOE lawsuit was an attempt to force the commissioners to provide funds to the BOE to install “a fire extinguisher system.” costly fire at the BOE offices in the new county office building when an adequate and widely used fire suppression system has already been installed.”

The BOE lawsuit says Election Systems & Software pointed out that building the machines – which include plastic, metal, electronics and a lithium-ion battery backup – would require a class ABC suppression system, not the current water suppression system.

Additionally, the filing indicates that the commissioners previously accepted a change order for the Geauga County Information Technology Department’s Automatic Data Processing Board to use the same foam suppression system in their portion of the building. .

“The Stewards recognized the damage that a high-powered water-fed fire suppression system could cause to ADP’s equipment and technology. The Board of Elections raised the same concerns as the Board of ADP regarding potential damage to its equipment and technology,” the lawsuit states.

Dennis Pavella, chairman of the BOE, said the commissioners would not do the same for his board.

“They’ve already done it for ADP in this building, but they won’t do it for us. They think we are not important to them, (that) the elections don’t matter,” he said. “We have about $2 million worth of equipment. If the (water-based) fire system went off, we could probably throw most of it in the trash. »

Morgan said the commissioners had redesigned the BOE space on several occasions due to the “change in objectives” set by the BOE, adding that the “dysfunction” of the BOE, which has had three directors and three deputy directors in recent years. years, has complicated the communication process. .

“These changes, which are too numerous to detail, have resulted in a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Morgan said, amounting to about $671,000 so far.

Pavella said the BOE’s demands have been consistent since the start of the new construction project.

“The board is made up of the exact same people and they had no trouble communicating,” Pavella said. “(The Stewards) don’t want to talk to us, that’s where the breakdown comes in.”

Pavella said the wasted money is on the part of the commissioners, who “did not pay any attention” to requests made by the council based not only on the technical specifications of equipment suppliers, but also on the decisions of the board of the Ohio Secretary of State with which the BOE must comply.

BOE representatives had the first opportunity to tour their new space in the facility on Dec. 14, 2021, according to the lawsuit, where some minor changes were readily agreed upon, but “the most critical and essential aspects of (the space) – namely the high-powered water-fed fire extinguishing system and the lack of storage, have not been solved.

Morgan said the BOE criticized and belittled Geauga County voters by portraying issues with the building’s layout as if they would lead to confusion over how to form lines, or the need to use stairs or elevators to reach the BOE office.

“Commissioners are and will remain committed to providing safe, secure, convenient and accessible voting for all of our residents,” he said. “BOE’s new location will be in a state-of-the-art building near the county center, just yards from the (Geauga County) Sheriff’s Office, Geauga Hospital and Geauga Transit. It is unfortunate that petty political bickering by BOE members only serves to hamper residents’ ability to vote and waste extra tax dollars.

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