The Ohio Secretary of State’s office will not conduct an investigation into Summit County Board of Elections employees’ personal use of computers, Internet access and cellphones during work hours.
In a letter dated Sept. 3, Secretary of State John Husted said the issue is “one of local resource management, the administration and oversight of which rests primarily with the members of the board of elections.”
“In a nutshell, they are not getting involved with any of it,” said Board Chairman Tim Gorbach, a Democrat, who surprised the board’s director, a Republican, and the Republican members of the board on Aug. 26 with information he had gathered against a Board employee without their knowledge.
Gorbach said Cecilia Robart had posted messages on Facebook more than 100 times within the course of 10 work days using her phone. Gorbach noted board policy prohibits employees from personal use of cellphones, iPads and other technology during work hours. They are only allowed to use the personal devices during breaks, lunchtime and for emergencies.
Robart is employed by the Summit County Board of Elections and is the wife of former Cuyahoga Falls mayor Don Robart, a Republican.
On Aug. 26, the board voted to ask the Secretary of State and the Summit County Prosecutor to conduct an investigation into why the Republican board members and director were not informed and kept unaware of the information and fact gathering conducted by Gorbach and the deputy director, also a Democrat.
The board also voted to request the Secretary of State and the Prosecutor to advise whether or not any board member can order the director and deputy director, as individuals, to conduct an investigation without board approval or to withhold information on an investigation being conducted from the rest of the Board.
“… all official acts and duties prescribed by [state law] are executed by resolution of the body, rather than by individual members,” Husted’s letter said. “… the board would have been better served by taking action as a body rather than any one board member acting on his own.”
“Regarding my part, they state it would be better for a board member to bring information forward right away,” Gorbach said. “… other than waiting a few days (until our next scheduled board meeting) to bring forward information to the board, I did not violate any laws.”
Gorbach said he “felt it was important to err on the side of caution prior to bringing any information to the board until such time as I verified it to be true and accurate. What I didn’t want to occur was to make a statement in a public meeting that could turn out to be false and create an impression that wasn’t true.”
“However, as suggested by the SOS,” Gorbach continued, “should I receive any information of this nature in the future, I will bring it to all members’ attention immediately.”
Gorbach said the board has not received any response from the prosecutor, but expects the board will.
There currently is no investigation of employees’ use of the Internet or cell phones on government time, Gorbach said, adding he likely would vote against any future motions to conduct such a widespread investigation with no basis.
“I was made aware of one employee … and then looked into it and found yes, it was true, she was actively on Facebook during work hours,” Gorbach said. “Why should we spend the resources and time going into an election to investigate everyone else. We’ve not been alerted to anyone else doing anything improper.”
Gorbach said there was no cost to the board of elections or the taxpayers asking the Secretary of State’s opinion. The Secretary of State’s Office reviewed the local board’s meeting minutes and motions and made their decision from that, he said. “It was pretty cut and dry,” he said. “I think that’s why they got a letter to us so quickly.”
A message left for Alex Arshinkoff, one of the board’s Republican members, was not returned by press time.