Brunner Suspends Remaining Cuyahoga County Board Member
Columbus, OH - April 3, 2007 - The state's chief election officer, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, announced today that she is suspending the remaining Cuyahoga County Board Member Robert Bennett from his service on the board.
Secretary Brunner notified Bennett in writing on Tuesday afternoon.
"The Secretary of State's office will be working with the current and emerging leadership of the board to develop a plan improving, with the assistance of the Secretary of State's office, the boards operations and service to the citizens of Cuyahoga County. To further these efforts, I believe it to be in the best interests of all involved to suspend your participation as a member of the board," said Brunner. The notice of suspension pointed to the reasons addressed in the complaint filed against the Cuyahoga Board of Elections members by Brunner on March 23, 2007.
Brunner cites an additional reason for the suspension involving instructions to former Executive Director Michael Vu to award a contract to a consultant without Board approval.
Bennett instructed Vu to award a second contract to David Hopcraft in the amount of $14,750 on or about February 26, 2007, for public relations services to be paid for by public dollars by the board of elections. The Dayton Daily News on March 26, 2007 reported Mr. Hopcraft to be a "GOP spokesperson." According to board policy no contract for services may be awarded without board approval if it exceeds $15,000. The extension of Hopcraft's contract with a second contract for just under $15,000, without board approval, violates board policy.
Under this suspension, Bennett is ordered to not attend any board meetings, or be present at the offices of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Any authority that Bennett had as the chair of the board is suspended.
Secretary Brunner sent a letter to interim board director Jane Platten on Monday explaining the move to put the board on administrative oversight, indicating that the Secretary of State would work with Platten in developing a specific plan of oversight.
Bennett's suspension is indefinite in duration and will terminate upon the later of his removal or the final resolution of any litigation contesting his removal.
Patrick Gallaway, Director of Communications (614) 752-2450
Jeff Ortega, Assistant Director of Communications-Media (614) 466-0473.
The Hopcraft matter came to light when at the February 27, 2007 meeting, as soon as the meeting began, then-board member, Ed Coaxum stated that the board had received an email from former Director Vu, who, though already having resigned as of the following week, sent the message in his expected absence for the beginning of this meeting. Also, with Sally Florkewiecz's absence at that meeting, leaving Bennett without his rubberstamp vote, Mr. Coaxum grabbed the opportunity to stop Hopcraft's contract without the possibility of another 2-2 public partisan fight, over this issue. Coaxum's eagerness is unmistakable.
Though he may have known what Hopcraft actually did, and obviously didn't approve of the expenditure, no one I know observing the meetings with the ever-present Hopcraft in back, did.
Hopcraft who's demeanor resembles that of an ex-policeman, could be observed however, driving Bennett, coming out of executive sessions (!), listening to and at times joining conversations in a rather steering way among those waiting out in the hall, gathering up Bennett after meetings, etc. Not a good use of public funds, this GOP bodyguard, driver, "communicator".
And per Brunner's release citing of the Dayton Daily News calling Hopcraft a GOP spokesman, today, their AP article called him Bennett's spokesman. Maybe the GOP is dumping Bennett too.
Ohio County Election Board Chair Booted
By JOHN McCARTHY
Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio —
"Republican Bob Bennett, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, has sued Brunner to stop her from kicking him off the board. Three other board members, two Democrats and a Republican, earlier resigned under pressure from Brunner.
A hearing in the lawsuit was scheduled for Wednesday. A spokesman for Bennett, David Hopcraft, said Brunner's action amounted to political harassment and was intended to help the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.
"Everything she does furthers the conclusion that it's a very partisan approach," he said.
Brunner denied her actions have been political.
"It's unfortunate that in this whole series of events that Mr. Bennett has chosen to take a partisan tack," Brunner said. "I called all four board members and asked all four of them to resign. The remaining member happens to be the chairman of the Ohio GOP."
April 3, 2007 - 9:39 p.m. EDT
Links to SoS Brunner's letter to Bennett and Vu's email can be found at the top link to Brunner's news release.