In Ohio, the two Democrats on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections said Thursday that they would drop their drive to dump elections Director Michael Vu and his deputy, Gwen Dillingam, once the decision was made to hire Ohio Lottery Director Tom Hayes to oversee the general election.
Hayes was hired by the Cuyahoga County commissioners. His compensation will be determined later.
His hiring, however, raised questions about who is in charge of the board and whether Hayes, a jogging and traveling companion of Vu's, is too close to him to be objective.
It also raised questions about whether the county is complying with the revolving-door restriction of an employee-buyout agreement Hayes helped write before retiring as Cuyahoga County administrator in 2001.
The buyout, which was taken by some 1,100 employees, was aimed at cutting costs by reducing the payroll. In the case of Hayes, 54, taxpayers paid to increase his pension from $56,000 a year to a maximum of $89,700.
As for Vu, elections board Chairman Robert Bennett, a Republican, said Vu is director and remains in charge.
Not so, Democratic board members said.
"Vu reports to Hayes," said Edward Coaxum.
"Tom Hayes is over it all," said Loree Soggs.
They said Hayes and the presence of the Cleveland State University Center for Election Integrity as a monitor provides the checks they sought on Vu's authority.
"We will not pursue the resignations of director and deputy director because we are comfortable that we have protections in place to protect the integrity of the electoral process," Coaxum said.
However, Coaxum said he has not changed his mind that Vu should go in the future.
"I have not retreated from that position," he said. "However, in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, we must all focus on the November election."
Vu said he is concentrating on the general election and not job hunting.
Soggs and others have been critical of the close ties between Vu and Hayes. But Soggs said he now believes Hayes can be objective.
Vu, laughing, said Hayes cut him no slack in the stinging 400-page criticism of the way Vu and Dillingham supervised the May 2 primary.
"What good did it do me when he was on the review panel?" Vu said.
The report blasted Vu and Dillingham for almost every aspect of the botched election, from pretesting of electronic absentee ballot counters to blocking bad news about the vote from reaching the elections board. Results were delayed for days.
Hayes resigned from the lottery Thursday, effective Aug. 18, when he will assume the elections job.
Hayes was Cuyahoga County's administrator until taking early retirement in 2001.
The buyout agreement the county was offering at the time stated that "the board of County Commissioners will not hire an employee who participates in an early retirement incentive plan."
Hayes and commissioners' President Jimmy Dimora said there is an implied five-year restriction and it does not apply to contractors.
Dimora said Hayes will work for the LNE Group, owned by former County Commissioner Lee Weingart.
Hayes said he is not violating the spirit of the buyout, even though an early draft of the plan he circulated as county administrator also contained language barring former employees from returning as contractors. That language disappeared in the final draft.
Dimora said if there is a buyout flap, "We're going to have to make an exception in this case because of the extreme and dire circumstances we are faced with."
Dimora said commissioners also agreed to spend $4.3 million for 700 new voting machines and other equipment.
"We're like the cavalry coming to the rescue," Dimora said.