Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Election Administrator Holden Off the Hook, but Critics Remain Unsatisfied

Norma Lester, one of two skeptical Democratic Election Commissioners, calls probation process a “hoax.”

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 10:39 AM

SCEC Administrator Rich Holden
  • SCEC Administrator Rich Holden
Although Rich Holden, administrator of elections at the glitch-plagued Shelby County Election Commission, has completed a six-month probation period and received what amounts to a clean bill of health at a meeting two weeks ago, the two Democratic members of the 5-member Commission remain dissatisfied, and one of them, Norma Lester, calls the procedure a “hoax.”

At the February 20 meeting, Lester, along with Democratic colleague George Monger, unsuccessfully called again, as they had at a previous meeting, for a resolution asking Holden to resign. They were out-voted by chairman Robert Meyers and the two other Republican members of the Election Commission, Dee Nollner and Steve Stamson.

Lester contends that Holden was allowed to circumvent a three-day suspension without pay that was imposed on him along with the six-month probation period. She describes the combination of penalties, voted by the Commission last year in the wake of several election irregularities, as having been a “compromise” but one that was incompletely enforced.

Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers acknowledged that Holden had not had his pay docked but called that an “oversight” on his part. “There was something specific I had to do beyond our resolution that I didn’t realize at the time was necessary, but, when it was called to my attention, I took care of it.” Holden’s pay will be docked for three days, Meyers said, but, in answer to an additional assertion by Lester that the administrator had taken only two days off, not the three mandated, the chairman said, “We were in crisis mode at the time, and I called him [Holden] back to help out with it. I don’t think it’s necessary to ask him to take another day off, so long as we are docking his pay for three full days."

Holden’s penance was ordained by the full Commission in the wake of a series of election-rated glitches in 2012 that included the distribution of thousands of wrong ballots during the August 2 county general election — a problem generally attributed to an untimely application of reapportionment guidelines to precinct assignments.

As part of his probation, Holden was required to take both a Dale Carnegie course and one in management, to explain work assignments of his staff members in some detail and conduct regular meetings with them, and to complete the process of redistricting to the Commission’s satisfaction. Holden supplied the Commission with a lengthy, itemized statement as evidence of his compliance with all points.

Lester and Monger have made it clear they remain unsatisfied, with Lester declaring in a memo to her colleagues, “My distrust of the AOE [Holden] has been very open. It is disheartening to think trust of the Republican commissioners has been misplaced.”

Another unsatisfied person is Joe Weinberg, who, along with but independently of fellow election watchdog Steve Ross, exposed the wrong-ballot problem last year — one which was confirmed by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office.

Weinberg, who has compiled a lengthy list of what he sees as systemic problems in the workings of the administrator’s office, charges that most of them have not been dealt with — either by Meyers or the Election Commission as a whole or state Comptroller Justin Wilson, who conducted a review of Commission activities at the request of Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Weinberg has publicized new research of his own, contending that at least 400 city voters and possibly many more whose precincts were “split” following reapportionment were deprived of the opportunity in November of voting on a city gas tax referendum.

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