LaRose says ‘no’ Gibbs appointment

By Melanie Speicher - [email protected]



COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has made his decision about the appointment of Chris Gibbs, of Maplewood, to the Shelby County Board of Elections. LaRose said he has decided not to appoint Gibbs to the board.

In a letter to Tom Kerrigan, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, LaRose wrote, “Based on the evidence and information provided to me, I have decided not to appoint Mr. Gibbs to serve on the Shelby County Board of Elections. This decision follows a thorough review of his criminal background check, relevant personal and professional history, publicly available records, and anecdotal feedback provided to me by county residents who know him and have worked with him. As I wrote in my correspondence to you on December 17, 2022, one such matter referred to me for consideration raised concerns about his competency based on Mr. Gibbs’s past conduct as a political candidate.”

Democrats respond

Both Kerrigan and Gibbs responded to LaRose’s decision.

“I could not be more disappointed in LaRose ridiculous erroneous decision. We submitted Chris Gibbs’ appointment documents Nov. 30, 2022. Eight weeks later, despite providing information, he bases his decision mostly on total fabrications of the radical wing of the Shelby County Republican Party (Central committee),” said Kerrigan. “They went so far as to viciously attack Chris Gibbs’ family, that years ago when his son was hired by the former sheriff at the local dog shelter that this was some sort of conflict of interest on Chris’ part. They blamed him solely when councilman (Mike) Barhorst’s petition was rejected for lack of the needed number of voters signing his petition, despite all four Board of Elections Officials unanimously rejecting the petition.

“I provided the secretary of state and his chief counsel all of the names of those who worked with Chris during his 12 years as chairman of the Board of Elections. To my knowledge they contacted not one of them. This list included Dawn Billing, Jon Baker, Chuck Craynon, Merrill Asher, James Thompson, former Sheriff (John Lenhart), present Sheriff (Jim Frye), present director Pam Kerrigan, former deputy directors all who have worked with Chris, yet not one of these important informed coworkers was contacted. These coworkers all stated Chris was unbiased, fair, competent and honest,” said Kerrigan.

“Instead, LaRose solicited hateful fabrications, allegations from a vendetta motivated (by the) radical wing of the local Republican central and executive party. LaRose then turned his fake justification to the 4th Congressional District’s failed petition of Chris Gibbs. This was nearly three years ago and LaRose had the information nearly three years ago and neglected to do anything since,” he said.

“Chris signed a contract with a party to gather voters’ signatures on a petition to run against the local Republicans’ beloved candidate Jim Jordan. The hired party failed miserably, failing to get the needed nearly 2,500 number of registered, 4th District voters, and a small number of them were deceased at time of filing. Fraud was perpetrated against Chris Gibbs, yet LaRose after three years has the matter revisited to justify his decision,” said Kerrigan.

Gibbs said he is disappointed in the actions of LaRose.

“Secretary LaRose came after my son. He came after my friend John Lenhart, and he came after my integrity. I’ll take hits to my honor all day and write it off as bare-knuckle political bullying. I’m immune to that. But don’t you dare come after my son or my friends,” said Gibbs. “That’s a bridge too far and only demonstrates that my detractors are petrified of my re-nomination to the Board of Elections because they know I won’t tolerate deviation from the Ohio Revised Code, and I certainly won’t tolerate using the Board of Elections as a political weapon as it was used against now Sheriff Frye in the 2020 Primary. At that time, a complaint was manufactured and filed with the Elections Commission in an attempt to embarrass the Frye campaign and elevate his opponent. Because the attempt was too cute by half, it failed.

“It’s obvious that the radical right-wing Liberty Group controlled Shelby County Republican Central Committee’s fingerprints are all over this. I’m confident a forthcoming open records request for communication with Secretary of State officials will shed light,” Gibbs said. “This is what happens to those brave enough to speak out against the radical right MAGA wing of the GOP. They’ll use all the tools at their disposal to discredit and spook you into silence. Well, that doesn’t work for me. I don’t spook, I don’t run, and I don’t hide.

“After LaRose came after my son in mid-December, he quickly realized that wasn’t going to meet muster so he had to trump up something else to hang his hat on. Just within the past week, his office nudged the Lorain County Prosecutor to restart an investigation from three years ago. At that time, my attempt to gain the signatures needed to mount a campaign against Jim Jordan was defrauded by what appeared to be an unscrupulous contractor. At that time, I begged the Prosecutor and the investigating officer to get to the bottom of any wrongdoing. Let’s be clear. I was the victim of the fraud here and the criminal system did nothing until LaRose needed a reason to deny by nomination. He then magically rolled out an ‘active’ investigation this week,” said Gibbs.

“At the end of the day, I’m most disappointed for the Shelby County Democrat Party. Up to now, they’ve stood beside my nomination through thick and thin. I can tell you this, regardless of the final outcome, this local Party has earned my loyalty for life,” said Gibbs.

LaRose’s reason for response

LaRose cited Gibbs unsuccessful run at the Fourth Congressional District House seat as his reasoning behind denying the appointment.

“The Lorain County Board of Elections rejected candidate petitions filed by Mr. Gibbs in 2020 alleged to contain invalid signatures of non-qualified and even deceased electors. The board voted unanimously to report the petitions to the county prosecutor for ‘investigation of possible fraud.’ (Mr. Gibbs himself admits in another news report that the petition effort he oversaw as a candidate ‘was at the very least sloppy work, at the very most, possibly something more nefarious.’

“My office obtained the minutes of the Lorain County Board of Elections meeting, at which the bipartisan board members voted unanimously to refer the matter to the county prosecutor for investigation.

“Upon further inquiry to the prosecutor’s office, I received confirmation that this matter is still under active investigation. I want to reiterate my previous concern about Mr. Gibbs’s apparent lack of judgement in overseeing his own candidate petition effort, particularly with more than a decade of experience serving on a county board of elections. He should know the candidate petition requirements, one of the most basic functions of the local board, and by his own admission he not only failed to meet those requirements but did so in a manner that resulted in a unanimous criminal referral. That is not a demonstration of competency for this important position, in which he is responsible for overseeing the certification of candidacies.

“Given the unresolved nature of this matter and the importance of allowing the Shelby County Board of Elections to proceed with the people’s business unrestricted, I am rejecting this recommendation. I have stated my reasons therefore, and by law your committee “may either recommend another elector or may apply for a writ of mandamus to the supreme court to compel the secretary of state to appoint the elector so recommended,” LaRose concluded.

Dan Cecil, Shelby County Republican Party chairman, said of the decision, “I’d just say that it’s the Secretary of State’s job to make tough decisions like that and then leave any further comments to representatives of his office.”

The Democratic Committee had recommended Gibbs be appointed to the board of elections after they were informed of the resignation of James Thompson on Nov 28, 2022. Thompson’s resignation was effective Nov. 21, 2022.

The committee met Tuesday, Nov. 29, and unanimously recommended Gibbs replace Thompson on the board.

The Democratic Committee met Wednesday night to discuss the situation and how to proceed with the vacancy.

Thompson’s term is up March 1, 2025.


By Melanie Speicher

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.