Election director facing scrutiny
By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 30, 2012 1:46 PM
The Wayne County Board of Elections met behind closed doors for two hours Tuesday morning with state Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett before recessing the meeting until 8:30 a.m. Friday in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.
Wayne Elections Chairman Joe Lofton had earlier declined comment on whether or not Vickie Reed, who has served as county elections director since January 2008, was the subject of the closed session. Ms. Reed did not attend the meeting.
However, the meeting comes just days after the board received a letter in which Bartlett called into question statements Ms. Reed made in a May 16 deposition for the Dickson v. Rucho civil court case in which voters challenged the General Assembly's statewide redistricting.
In the letter, Bartlett was critical of Ms. Reed's understanding of her job.
According to the meeting notice, Tuesday's session was called to discuss "the conduct of the elections and personnel matters and take whatever action is needed."
No action was taken and there was no discussion after the board returned to open session.
"You know as much as I do," Ms. Reed said when contacted afterward. "I don't have anything to add because I don't really know anything else. I don't really have a comment to make."
In the strongly worded letter, Bartlett said Ms. Reed should direct any concerns to him if she feels that the state staff and/or training and information provided to her by the state office is lacking.
"Or perhaps you should seek other career opportunities," Bartlett wrote.
Lofton said he received a copy of Bartlett's letter, but declined comment on its contents or claims until after the board has had a chance to review the case.
Ms. Reed, her staff, and county GOP Chairman Bob Jackson waited in the commissioners' meeting room while the closed session was being held in a nearby conference room.
Also in the closed session were County Attorney Borden Parker and Commissioner Steve Keen, the commissioners' liaison to the elections board, who does not normally attend the board's meetings.
Keen asked to attend the closed session and was granted permission to do so. It is not unusual for counties to have a county commission member or members who monitor the elections board, Bartlett said.
Ms. Reed responded to Bartlett's letter with her own letter dated May 24. In that letter, Ms. Reed blamed the controversy on her failure to catch and amend statements in the deposition before signing off on the document.
Bartlett said he views Ms. Reed's letter as setting the tone for her wanting to get the issue resolved and to put it behind her.
He said after the meeting that he could not comment on what had been discussed, but implied that there more concerns than simply her statements in the deposition.
He denied, however, that Ms. Reed's Republican Party affiliation has anything to do with the concerns.
"There is no partisanship," Bartlett said. "This is just an elections matter. The state is doing its job to try to get the county in a position to do their job as they should. There is nothing to do with politics or partisanship."
Bartlett said he was unsure how many people were deposed in the civil suit, but that it was about a dozen.
He said the Attorney General's Office raised concerns about the deposition -- the only one that was singled out.
"They thought that this was disturbing," Bartlett said.
He said State Board of Elections attorney Don Wright and two other staff members reviewed all 85 pages of Ms. Reed's deposition and brought bits and pieces to him.
"Those were the high points (in his letter)," he said. "One of the things that caused our office concern is that it appeared that she made several mistakes. It showed her lack of knowledge of processes to the point that they thought I should call it to her attention and offer her additional training because she had been at it for four years now and she should be a little better in tune than what she showed in that deposition."
He wrote to Ms. Reed, "It is disappointing to read that you do not trust data provided to you by this office even though it is the information provided by the General Assembly; that you blamed this office for the unavailability of Wayne County sample ballots when, in fact, the problem was due to your office's erroneous entry of the incorrect date of the primary election."
In her deposition Ms. Reed does not specifically say she did not trust the state. She said her office did not download the files from the state because she felt "more secure" with the county's files. She said the county did use maps downloaded from state legislative services, but not the state Board of Elections.
Bartlett also focused on a statement in Ms. Reed's deposition in which she said she was not "detail-oriented," saying that was a critical skill for an elections director.
Ms. Reed said in her letter that the statement was poorly worded and that she did not mean to say she did not pay attention to the details of her job.
Ms. Reed also disputed Bartlett's claim that she is not familiar with the election process and needs more training.
"I don't know what aspects of it that he refers to," she said. "In his letter, he did not really tell me. What he said to me is in the letter and that is all I have to go by."
Ms. Reed said in her letter that she had been "uncomfortable" during the deposition. However, she said she still thought it had gone well. Therefore, she said, she did not review the transcript as well as she could have.
"It has become clear to me that what I meant and what I said are two different things and I now understand why I received the letter and why you stated what you did," she wrote to Bartlett.
She offered her apology for her lack of understanding of the audit process and for any statements that "appear to show distrust" in the state's data.
Ms. Reed said her office used the state's data and had no question as to its validity.
She said she was sorry for the impression that she blamed the state for the delay in obtaining the sample ballots. Ms. Reed said she had only intended to let attorneys know that the state had experienced technical difficulties and about other resources available to voters. She said she in no way blamed the state for the delay.
Ms. Reed said she also had failed to correct the statement about being detail-oriented.
"I meant to say that my deputy director was even more detail-oriented than I, not that I was not detail-oriented," she wrote. "I realize that elections professionals must be detail-oriented or we could not perform our duties.
"I have no concerns with the State Board staff providing all the tools necessary for my office to function properly. I would take the opportunity for any and all training that your office would recommend for me to carry out my duties in a manner that would be beneficial to both Wayne County and the State Board."