03/13/13 — Commissioner questions Board of Elections raises

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Commissioner questions Board of Elections raises

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 13, 2013 1:46 PM

A verbal scuffle over operations in the county's Board of Elections ended with one commissioner questioning another over his intentions as a new member of the county's governing body.

Commissioner John Bell challenged Commissioner Joe Daughtery during the board's meeting Tuesday after he questioned a decision by the previous board -- of which Commission Chairman Steve Keen, Bell and Commissioner Ray Mayo were members -- concerning salaries and staffing in the Board of Elections.

Daughtery criticized the vote to increase salaries last fall when it hired two new employees and reclassified another in the office.

Bell questioned Daughtery's motives.

"I am going to be a little bit facetious here, Mr. Daughtery seems to have a problem with what the previous board approved and worked on," Bell said. "We just didn't pass this on a whim. We studied the issue and made a decision, and I think we made a good decision.

"If it is going to be a problem and everything why don't we just stop, go back and undo everything the previous board did and start over? That seems to be your rationale. You want to question everything that the previous board did. I don't know where you are going with all of this stuff."

Daughtery said he was simply questioning increasing the cost of running the department, adding that the Board of Elections had to ask for $79,450 from the county's contingency fund to cover those additional costs until the end of the fiscal year in June.

"I feel like as a commissioner I have every right to, and should, question budget amendments that come before us," Daughtery said. "I apologize if you in any way felt like I was questioning what had happened prior."

"That is what you said," Bell said.

Daughtery then made a motion to approve the amendment and bring it up again in budget discussions.

However, when Commission Chairman Steve Keen, a Republican, repeated the motion, he left out the part about budget discussions, and added "to take care of this item as presented to us." The motion was unanimously approved.

The Board of Elections had asked for the amendment to pay the salaries of Director Rosemary Blizzard, Deputy Director Beverly York, who had been serving as interim director, and election technician and Geographic Information Services specialist Dane Beavers.

The total amendment of $79,450 was for salaries and all associated benefits, County Manager Lee Smith said.

At the time the three were hired, commissioners were made aware that the budget amendment would be required, Smith said. The idea was to get them in and get them established and see what the rest of the year brought, Smith said.

One reason for that, Smith said, was because the county did not know how the election would go and whether additional help would have to be hired, or if overtime would be required.

"In their attempting to recruit quality staff and to retain quality staff, the increases were needed to those salaries and to reclassify one of the positions," Smith said. "Therefore the budget amendment would be required. We shared that with the commissioners at that time that this would need to be done in the late winter, early spring."

Keen said he was part of the decision-making on the previous board.

Keen said at the time he was serving as liaison between commissioners and the Board of Elections just as Daughtery is now. As such, Keen said he had brought the Board of Elections' concerns about the employees and salaries to commissioners through Smith.

"There were concerns that the importance of the November election was so paramount, we just felt uneasy going forward into November," Keen said.

Keen noted that the Board of Elections learned of Mrs. Blizzard who had previously served as the director of voter registration for the state Board of Elections.

"She had a lot of experience and to bring that caliber into Wayne County, I don't mean to be speaking for that board, I am speaking as a commissioner and liaison, that they felt comfortable," Keen said. "They approached me, and I approached Mr. Smith and our board. They were OK with it.

"At that time we just sort of put it (salaries) off until the new board could digest it, which is what we are doing today, and bring it before this board."

That was one reason why Board of Elections officials were asked to be part of Monday's initial round of departmental reports, he said.

The Monday presentation by county GIS coordinator Chip Crumpler also demonstrated how important it is to have a GIS person in the Board of Elections office to ensure all voter addresses are correct, Keen said.

Also, commissioners thought it was appropriate to retain Mrs. York because of her experience, he said.

"We set the (classification) grades at that time to look at longevity to ensure that when we brought these people in and put them in their place that they were at the level with the dollars," Keen said.

The idea was that the county was planning for the future and not just for someone coming in temporarily to "Band-Aid" something and then be gone six months later, he said.

"With the IT position, the person coming into that position as part of the interview process actually brought forth a presentation of something that we are going to implement over the next year that saves $50,000," Smith said. "So you almost picked up everybody's salary on savings.

"That just proved to us that we were bringing in quality people who knew how to do the job."