SIDNEY — One Republican member of the Shelby County Board of Elections hasn’t been renominated to his seat by the Shelby County Republican Executive Committee. The second Republican board member resigned his seat effective immediately after Tuesday’s Shelby County Board of Elections monthly meeting.
Chris Gibbs, who has served on the board for 12 years, learned after a Feb. 11 interview, that the Republican Executive Committee had opted to nominate Jim Kreg to replace him on the board. The nomination was sent to the Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who in turn will make the appointment to the board.
Aaron Heilers, chairman of the Shelby County Republican Central Committee, declined to tell the Sidney Daily News why the committee had decided not to nominate Gibbs for another term on the elections board. He didn’t provide any additional information about Kreg, but said a press release would be sent after the Secretary of State’s office made the appointment to the local board official.
Subsequently, following an executive session during the Feb. 19 Board of Elections meeting, Republican Jon Baker told Director Pam Kerrigan, Deputy Director Donnie Chupp and fellow board members Democrats Merrill Asher and Chuck Craynon, that he was resigning from the board, a seat he has held for seven years.
“I couldn’t be more upset with the Republican Central Committee for firing Chris,” said Baker. “He is a capable board member, and there were political reasons behind this. This (Board of Elections) is no place for politics. We are here to serve all residents of the county.”
“I ain’t going anywhere,” said Gibbs, who remains a board member until Feb. 28. “I’ll leave you with what occurred to me when I was informed I would not be re-nominated: ‘A tongue freed from bondage transforms itself into a crystal clear voice.’”
Baker made his farewells to the staff and fellow board members.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. I have made friends with the board members that I wasn’t friends with before,” he said. “I’ll miss Election Day. I’ll miss all this (meetings).”
In a letter to LaRose, Baker wrote, “It has been an honor for me to serve the voters of Shelby County and to work with such dedicated and professional staff, board members and poll workers over the past several years.
“I am in serious conflict with the recent decision of the Shelby County Republican Central Committee to not re-appoint our board chairman, Chris Gibbs. Chairman Gibbs brought to our board years of invaluable experience working with the governmental policies, mandates and directives. He is truly an effective leader.
“It is my belief that Mr. Gibbs was released by the RCC not for performance but for political reasons,” Baker continued in the letter. “The board of elections is charged with serving all the voters of Shelby County and is no place for a political agenda. For these reasons alone I no longer wish to serve on this board,” Baker concluded.
Before Tuesday’s meeting ended, Gibbs addressed the fact that he wasn’t renominated to the board of elections.
“I’ve served in government at both the federal and local levels for the better part of 35 years. And although I spent a career doing important work for U.S. agriculture at USDA, there is nothing on my resume I am more proud of than my service to the board of elections,” said Gibbs.
“Specifically, I mean this board. A working board. With you three members. I’ve never worked with such a team of dedicated men. Men willing to do what it took. To spend whatever time it took. To give whatever of yourselves to ensure each and every election met the expectations of the public to be efficient, fair and trustworthy. And most of all, to remain resolute to the policy and the code, but never the politics.
“To be sure, these board seats are, indeed, political nominations and appointments,” continued Gibbs. “That said, only amateurs would believe these appointments are designed to wield political advantage. In truth, just the opposite is true. The code never sought to provide anything for a party. The code provides for the ‘people,’ in that with offsetting major party representation, the people, the voter, can be confident that neither party has an election administration advantage. This is the genius of the framework which results in fair and balanced election administration and ultimately voter confidence in the process. That voter confidence is the foundation of American exceptionalism.
“I’m proud of you, I’m proud of our staff and I’m proud of the team we have built together. It’s been an honor,” Gibbs said. “As for me, I’ve been given a renewed gift of freedom of speech. As a board of elections member, one always has to be cautious to not publicly get too far out in front of the local issues or the politics which show up on a ballot which you have the responsibility to count,” said Gibbs.
Kerrigan, who has been director for a year, said, “It is with regret that at the February monthly Board of Elections meeting, this office has received the announcement and confirmation that board members Chris Gibbs and Jon Baker are leaving their positions as board members. I have the utmost respect for both of these board members in their capacity with the Board of Elections Office. They have made it their goal to provide necessary guidance and experience to me as director of the Board of Elections Office and the staff, Deputy Director Donnie Chupp and Clerk Trina Riethman, to ensure the success of Shelby County’s elections process.
“It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with both of these board members knowing that they have both always considered and advised based on what is best for the elections process of Shelby County, first and foremost,” said Kerrigan. “I am grateful to have worked with both of them and thank them on behalf of the Board of Elections staff for their service to the voters of the Shelby County community.”
After learning Baker’s news, both Craynon and Asher voiced their thoughts about the situation.
“I’m the new guy on the board,” said Craynon, who has been on the board for three years. “I have been very proud to be on the board because we leave politics at the door. I’ve learned a lot from Chris and Jon and Merrill, too.
“I’m sorry to see you (Chris and Jon) leave the board,” said Craynon. “You’ve both put a lot of your own time into the Board of Elections. Thank you for the time you’ve put in for the residents of Shelby County.”
“I will continue to be on the voter rolls,” responded Gibbs.
“I’ll be retiring to my woods,” said Baker.
“I’m sorry to see you both go,” said Asher. “It’s been a pleasure to work with both of you. We’ve been able to leave politics at the door. I hope those coming onto the board understand that too.”
“Chris and I have not always agreed,” said Baker. “We were once called down at a Central Committee meeting because we were shouting at each other. But we put that behind us when we started working here.”
A public records request has been made by the newspaper for the minutes of the Republican Central Executive Committee meeting at which the decison was made concerning Gibbs and Kerg.
“I’m working with our secretary to make sure the minutes are typed, and we will get those to you as soon as possible,” Heilers responded in an email.
He also outlined the procedure for replacing Baker on the Board of Elections.
“The procedure for filling Mr. Baker’s position is laid out in the Ohio Elections Manual,” he said. “We have 15 days to fill the vacancy (and) make the nomination to the Secretary of State’s office. We will make that nomination as soon as possible so the board can be fully operational when they reorganize the first week of March.”
The board’s annual organizational meeting will be March 4 at 7:30 a.m. at the board of elections office.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.