08/18/10 — Bartlett: Hires at office were made properly

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Bartlett: Hires at office were made properly

By Dennis Hill and Steve Herring
Published in News on August 18, 2010 1:46 PM

A story questioning the hiring of several Goldsboro residents by the North Carolina Board of Elections conveys an image of favoritism that is undeserved, says the executive director, who is himself a Goldsboro resident.

A front-page headline in Tuesday's Raleigh News & Observer focused on Gary Bartlett and the hiring of four Wayne County residents to work on his staff.

One, Ralph Gable, was fired two weeks ago for what was called inappropriate behavior toward female members of the staff.

Bartlett said he could not comment on Gable's dismissal, but he denied that favoritism had been shown to any of the Wayne residents hired by the Board of Elections, a five-member panel made up of three Democrats and two Republicans.

Gable said he is collateral damage in a power struggle initiated by a woman in the office against Bartlett.

"I feel like a Duke lacrosse player with all of this diatribe being spewed toward me," he said.

Gable said he is limited in his ability to make comments because he is following the state's grievance procedures.

"Rest assured when the system is followed and the truth comes out it will be seen, and it will be clear what has transpired. I have been caught up in a power struggle," he said.

Gable said that the personnel information in the N&O article had been "illegally released by the involved person" and was a violation of the woman's confidentiality agreements.

He called the information "salacious, inaccurate and innuendo-laced."

The remaining three employees mentioned in the story were Neil Baddour, Paul Bridgers and Beverly York. Baddour and Ms. York are elections technicians. Bridgers is a field auditor.

The News & Observer referred to the group as "the Goldsboro Mafia," citing an unnamed source in the office.

Bartlett, who has served as the executive director of the agency for 17 years since being appointed to the post by the board, said that when he is approached about a job by anyone, he refers them to the department's website, which provides directions for submitting an application. He said he has never conducted interviews and does not make recommendations regarding hiring. Hiring someone because he knows them simply does not happen, Bartlett said, noting that with one exception the Wayne County residents have done a good job.

"I feel sorry for them," he said, referring to the negative publicity generated by the story.

He added that he is "proud of the job I have done," and noted that North Carolina's Board of Elections is considered one of the best such state boards in the nation.

The story questioned the group's carpooling to work and noted that both Bartlett and Gable had been working on "flex time," which gave them Fridays off.

Bartlett, who served as chairman of the Wayne County Democratic Party before taking the elections board job, said the group began driving to work together when gas prices rose to $4 a gallon. The state was encouraging commuters to carpool, he noted. He said the state also had urged some offices to make use of "flex time," to reduce costs. Bartlett said that he has since stopped carpooling to work and that he plans to go back to working 8 to 5 to avoid any more questions about his hours.

He added that the told the Raleigh reporter that he has often worked out of his home in Goldsboro, but that he meant that the work at home was in addition to his normal office hours. The story, Bartlett said, gave the impression that he worked at home at times instead of going to the office.

"This is a 24-hour-a-day job," he said, "and I know it. I have to be able to answer calls anytime.

"I'm going to do my job, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability," he said.

There are 68 positions in the Board of Elections office, Bartlett said. When asked how many employees are from Goldsboro, he said only those that were named in the story. Many other employees commute from other cities and towns surrounding the capital city, he said.

"What if I lived in Raleigh?" he asked. "I'm glad they didn't tell me I couldn't hire people from Raleigh."

On Tuesday, Elections Board Chairman Larry Leake praised Bartlett's work, saying Bartlett had taken over an "antiquated" office and modernized it as changes in election laws forced it to increase greatly in size. He also has taken on many additional responsibilities since 1993, Leake said.

"Gary has done a very good job since taking office," he said.

A News & Observer story published several weeks ago called into question the use of a private plane at state expense by Leake while he was investigating Gov. Beverly Perdue's use of private planes for campaign flights. Leake defended the action as a wise use of taxpayers' money.

Two days later, another N&O story quoted state Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer as calling on the governor to demand the resignations of both Leake and Bartlett. Fetzer called the state board of elections "a cesspool of corruption and incompetence."