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Leadership moves ahead for elections board

Director plans retirement; two board members announce departure plans

YOUNGSTOWN — Big changes are coming to the Mahoning County Board of Elections later this year with the retirement of Director Joyce Kale-Pesta and the departure of two longtime board members.

Republican Mark Munroe, a board member for more than 28 years, is retiring at the end of this month, while Bob Wasko, a member for about 20 years, is planning to leave sometime after the November general election.

Also, Kale-Pesta, who’s been at the board for the past 34 years, said she’s going to retire after the November election and replace Wasko on the board.

“It’s time for me to retire,” Kale-Pesta said. “I want to enjoy my life and spend time with my kids and grandkids. I’ve been talking about it for a few years and now is the time to do it.”

Kale-Pesta also plans not to seek re-election as county Democratic Party chairwoman when her term expires in June 2022 but would consider serving as the party’s vice chairwoman.

At the urging of board Vice Chairman David Betras, Kale-Pesta would spend a couple of years serving on the elections board, succeeding Wasko.

“Joyce is a rock star with the innovations she’s brought to the board,” Betras said.

With Munroe and Wasko departing and Republican Tracey Winbush resigning last February to run for Youngstown mayor — and replaced by Sandra Barger — Betras said the board needs Kale-Pesta’s experience.

“I asked Joyce to join the board because I don’t want it to be three new board members and me along with a new deputy director,” Betras said.

The search for Kale-Pesta’s replacement will start shortly, Betras said.

Under state law, that person has to be a Democrat, so Betras said he and Kale-Pesta will lead the search.

“Joyce’s recommendation will weigh heavily in my mind,” Betras said. “She knows more than anyone about the qualifications.”

The plan, Betras said, is for him to become board chairman and for Deputy Director Thomas McCabe, a Republican, to serve as director after Kale-Pesta retires. Under state law, the board chairman and director have to be from different political parties.

Until then, Barger said she will serve as board chairman.

“We’re going to have some changes,” she said. “I’m glad Mark gave me some mentorship.”

Wasko and Munroe were reappointed in February to four-year terms.

Mahoning Republicans will meet at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 at party headquarters in Boardman to choose a successor for Munroe, whose retirement date is Sept. 30, McCabe said.

“We’re going to miss Mark and his expertise and demeanor,” McCabe said. “He’s always led by example, and he’s voted his conscience. His replacement will have big shoes to fill.”

Munroe, who retired as county Republican Party chairman in February 2019, said he decided that this month would be a good time to leave the board. He’s served on the board since 1991 except for a two-year gap.

“I am enjoying spending more time with ham radio, working on my Morse code skills, working on my 1976 MGB and with my 1-year-old granddaughter,” Munroe said.

Munroe said: “The board of elections is going through some real changes. Staff members have left and others are retiring, and Bob and Joyce are leaving.”

Munroe, who’s been appointed to the board by six different secretaries of state, said he’s seen a lot of changes over time.

“There used to be one day of voting, and you needed a statutory reason for an absentee ballot when I started,” he said. “Now there’s no-fault absentee voting and four weeks of early voting. The changes have been remarkable.”

As for words of advice to his successor, Munroe said: “Keep politics out of the board office. By doing that, we have a much better operation.”

Wasko, who is experiencing health issues, said he plans to leave the board at the end of the year.

Betras said he wants to fill Wasko’s term, which expires in 2025, and have Kale-Pesta appointed to his term, which ends in 2023.

Wasko said having Kale-Pesta replace him on the board “is about continuity and making sure the board runs as smooth as possible and that we have fair and well-run elections. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done.”

Board members make about $16,000 annually.

The director and deputy director are paid $81,200 annually.

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