Category Archives: election commission

Holt vs. TNDP on election administrator’s exit

A Tennessee Democratic Party press release criticizing a new state law declaring that only Republicans can serve as county election commission chairs included a line that says Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, “had a local Weakley County election administrator fired and then replaced her with his inexperienced friend.”

Holt has responded to that with a missive to state Democratic Chair Mary Mancini, declaring in part the “disgraceful & slanderous accusations are baseless, and serve as a reminder that the modern Democratic Party is wrought with corruption.” He included a copy of former Weakley County Election Administrator Barbara Castleman’s letter of resignation to show she left of her “own volition.”

And TNDP’s communications director, Spencer Bowers, has in turn responded to Holt with a “correction” to the press release acknowledging that Holt did not fire the election administrator, then adding, “What he did was much worse. By recommending the removal and replacement of three members of the 5-member election commission he manipulated the system until he got what he wanted, the job for his inexperienced friend.”

Holt includes a link to the blog post (HERE) that included the TNDP press release. TNDP includes a link to a Jackson Sun story describing event leading to Castleman’s departure.

(Note: The Sun story quotes Castleman as blaming Holt’s activities for her decision to quit and avoid “the hassle of the representative calling my shots and things.” Link to full story below with TNDP release; short blog version HERE.)

The Holt letter and the Bowers response are both below. Continue reading

Only TN Democratic election commission chair ousted

The State Election Commission has voted to remove Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons from the Sevier County Election Commission after he refused to step down as chairman in compliance with a new state law mandating that only Republicans serve as county election commission chairs.

In a letter to Fitzgibbons, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins says the commission decided “in a bipartisan 5-2 vote” to remove him from office “as a result of your violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 2-1-111 and 2016 Public Chapter 1069.”

The cited law, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature to take effect on July 1, declares that all county election commission chairmen must be members of the political party representing a majority of the commission. Under separate state law, Republicans have a majority on all county election commissions and on the State Election Commission as well.

Fitzgibbons was elected chairman of the Sevier County panel in April of 2015, becoming the only Democratic chair in the state on a 3-2 vote when a Republican member voted for him by mistake, Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, told the News Sentinel earlier. The change of law to require Republicans only be chairs came in the form of an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

According to State Election Commission correspondence on the issue, provided on request by a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, the Sevier County Election Commission voted to reorganize Aug. 12 and chose Jack Ogle as the new chairman, but Fitzgibbons the vote out of order and continued to describe himself as chairman.

The Tennessee Democratic Party issued a press release on the matter Monday. It’s below. Continue reading

New law ends Democrat’s term as election commission chair

The only Democrat holding the chairmanship of a county election commission is about to lose his role in accordance with a new state law, reports Georgiana Vines. quoting state Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, who was a co-sponsor of the new law when it was approved earlier this year by the Legislature.

All county election commissions have a 3-2 Republican majority membership. And everywhere but Sevier County, that has meant election of a Republican chairman. The new law took effect July 1 and Carr says the commission will meet soon to elect a new chairman.

There was nothing on the books that the chairman also be in the majority party until the legislation passed this year. (Note: It’s HB726, approved 65-8 in the House and 27-2 in the Senate.)

Carr said when the election commission reorganized in April 2015, Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons was elected in a 3-2 vote with one Republican inadvertently supporting him, Carr said.

“Someone asked graciously if he (Fitzgibbons) would reconsider the vote. He wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Carr said he “did not open that chapter up,” speaking of introducing legislation just to make sure the election commission chairman was of the majority party. But when Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon sponsored legislation affecting elections, “I put an amendment on to do that.”

Nashville election chairman quits in credit card flap

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has revoked the credit card privileges of the Davidson County Election Commission and ordered an audit of all charges paid with tax dollars.

The move on Monday comes after Election Commission Chairman Ron Buchanan announced he would be leaving. The Tennessean (http://goo.gl/t5HWX4 ) reports that Buchanan announced his resignation before WSMV-TV was to air an investigative report on credit card purchases.

The station’s report questions expenses of election administrator Kent Wall. While being interviewed, Buchanan is said to have gotten combative with TV reporter Alana Autler and called her a derogatory name. (Note: See excerpt below.)

Excerpt from the WSMV report:

A nearly two-month investigation by the I-Team exposed what a city council member called questionable spending by Election Administrator Kent Wall at restaurants and for office decorations.
Continue reading

Former official (and felon) seeks Memphis Council seat

Former Shelby County Commissioner Joe Cooper, previously convicted on money laundering charges, tried to qualify as a candidate for Memphis City Council Thursday, reports the Commercial Appeal. But it probably didn’t work.

Cooper filed his petition less than an hour before the noon qualifying deadline, after appearing before Chancery Court Judge Jim Kyle. Cooper filed a complaint in Kyle’s court against the Shelby County Election Commission for allegedly not allowing him file his petition and asked Kyle to grant a delay of the filing deadline.

But Kyle dismissed the complaint, saying Cooper needed to file his petition first.

Cooper then filed a petition with two signatures — far fewer than the 25 required — because he said he had been advised he could not collect signatures. In a somewhat contentious back-and-forth at the office’s counter, Election Administrator Richard Holden told him that his petition would be subject, as all petitions are, to certification at the Election Commission’s meeting at 4 p.m. next Thursday.

“At some point, you say ‘Hey, maybe it wasn’t to be this time’,” Cooper said before filing.

Cooper, a former County Commissioner and convicted money launderer, has not had his citizenship rights restored — a prerequisite to be certified as a candidate for public office.

Weakley County election administrator exits, blames Rep. Andy Holt

The Weakley County Election Administrator Barbara Castleman has retired, blaming interference from state Rep. Andy Holt for he decision, according to the Jackson Sun.

“I kind of thought that I would just get out of it. I don’t want to put up with this hassle anymore,” Castleman said. “The hassle of the representative calling my shots and things.”

Holt has been vocal about his wish that the commission hire Alex Britt, a friend and former volunteer on Holt’s campaigns, as the new administrator. Castleman said Holt wanted to put Britt in the administrator position without opening up the job to applicants.

Holt denied those claims and said that Castleman was hired without an open application period. He said the administrator job should be open to applicants, which the commission will vote on.

Holt does not have the authority to appoint the administrator. He can only recommend people to be appointed as county election commissioners, and those appointments are approved by the State Election Commission. The county election commission decides who to hire as its administrator.

But Holt said the State Election Commission normally appoints whomever he recommends to the county board.

Holt recommended the removal of the three Republican members of the county election commission, and three new members were appointed, but he said it wasn’t because the new commissioners promised to vote for Britt as administrator.

Holt said his reasons were not “tyrannical,” and each former commissioner had mentioned wanting to leave at some point.

“I made that recommendation to all the election commission,” Holt said. “I have never said, ‘You have to vote for Alex or I will …’”

…Holt said the situation has gotten blown out of proportion, but at the end of the day it is a political office.

“Sometimes you ruffle feathers and sometimes you hurt people’s feelings,” he said. “That’s not my intention, but at some point you have to pick somebody.”

Budget battle develops over Nashville early voting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Davidson County Election Commission has outraged officials at the Nashville mayor’s office after the panel voted that it is prepared to cut the number of early voting sites in metro Nashville’s general election from 11 to one, unless more funding is acquired.

Media outlets report that the election commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to operate only one early voting site — the state’s legal minimum — if the Metro Council approves Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget without changes.

Dean’s proposed operating budget is $868,000 lower than what the commission sought.

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, a top Dean aide, blasted the decision.

“Does the election commission have enough money to run the elections this summer?” Riebeling said in a statement. “Yes, they do. But they’ve chosen to punish the voters of Davidson County in order to enhance their budget. They need to reverse their position and remember that their job is to make elections accessible to the voters. To threaten early voting sites is outrageous.”

Republican commission Chairman Ron Buchanan, who voted for the reductions, said the budget doesn’t cover funding for 12 full-time, year-round office positions the commission requested.

“The decision the commission had to make was, are we going to cut out funding for those 12 positions and jeopardize our ability to put on the elections in lieu of having early voting sites?” Buchanan told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1EYmgeh ). “Do we want to eliminate early voting? Absolutely not.”

The vote went along party lines, with Republican-appointed commissioners — Buchanan, Jim DeLanis and Jenifer Lawson — voting for the reduction pending greater funding. Democrats Tricia Herzfeld and A.J. Starling voted against it.

The council is expected to approve a final operating budget on June 16. The election commission meets next on June 11.

In last November’s election, about half of all votes cast in Nashville came in through early voting.

Further from The Tennessean:

Dean’s proposed budget would fund everything the election commission has asked for “as far as elections itself,” according to Dean’s administration, including all early voting sites. The mayor’s office also noted that the proposed $5.04 million 2015-16 budget for the elections office would be a 25.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

However, the mayor’s budget does not cover funding for 12 full-time, year-round office positions that the commission requested. That’s what prompted Wednesday’s vote, according to Republican commission chairman Ron Buchanan, who made the motion for the elimination of early voting satellite sites pending more funding.

Note: The state Democratic Party denounced the Davidson County Election Commission move. New release below.
Continue reading

State Election Commissioner Jimmy Wallace stirs up a storm in Crockett County

Crockett County’s mayor and sheriff are among officials criticizing State Election Commissioner Jimmy Wallace for engineering replacement of three county election commissioners so that the county’s election administrator can move to another county.

The Jackson Sun reports a “standing-room only crowd” packed the Crockett County Courthouse Friday to air their complaints to U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican; State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat; and State Sen. Ed Jackson, a Republican.

Wallace told The Jackson Sun last week that he voted to appoint three new Republican members because he believes it’s unfair to require Crockett County Election Administrator Lori Lott to live in Crockett County. She moved to the county as a condition of getting the position, but now wants to move back to Madison County. The newly-appointed commissioners voted April 9 to let her make the move.

State law does not require the administrator of elections to live in the county. But the commission’s ad in Alamo’s weekly newspaper for the open position said applicants had to be residents of Crockett County, which she was not (at the time).

…Crockett County Mayor Gary Reasons said he spent time last week in Nashville speaking with both Fitzhugh and Jackson about Wallace.

“I think Mr. Jimmy Wallace should be removed,” Reasons said Friday. “I think he’s overstepped his boundaries. I really don’t think he’s fit to serve in the capacity he serves in.”

Ken Davis served as a Crockett County election commissioner for nearly 15 years. He said he was removed from his position by Wallace in 2008.

“If people in this room think it is a current issue, it is not,” Davis said. “He has been out of control since going all the way back to 2008.

“It’s been like a circus board the last few years because if he doesn’t get what he wants, you go out the door,” Davis continued.

Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce told the legislators there should be an investigation into Wallace’s actions.

“I think the Republicans need to stand up to this man, and the governor needs to understand we’re not going to stop until we’re heard … we’re not going to lay down because a rich person is trying to tell us what to do,” Klyce said.

…Wallace told The Jackson Sun on Friday that he believes the most important thing in the whole ordeal is that Lott has come in and done a respectable job in Crockett County. Where she lives shouldn’t matter, he said.

“If she is doing the job that I am told she is doing, and she did do in that November election, then that’s all that matters,” Wallace said. “And the fact that there’s been a storm stirred because of the residency issues doesn’t take away from the number one important thing and that is for the elections to be running properly.

“Even with all the furor, Crockett County is getting an excellent administrator that’s going to do the right thing and make sure those elections are run properly,” he said.

…Jackson and Fitzhugh said time was running short in this legislative session to take any action (but they would be looking into the matter.)

Crockett County election administrator, by 3-2 vote, can live outside county

The Crockett County administrator of elections need not live in Crockett County under a decision made by the county election commission, according to The Jackson Sun. That comes after a promise she made to move into the county when hired last fall.

The Crockett County Election Commission voted 3-2 Thursday morning to change wording in the county’s bylaws that will allow Lori Lott, administrator of elections, to move back to Jackson.

Lott was hired in a controversial vote last October. The commission’s ad in Alamo’s weekly newspaper for the open position said applicants had to be residents of Crockett County, which she was not. However, according to commissioners, Lott was the most qualified, and the commission was weeks away from the Nov. 4 election.

Lott was hired with a stipulation that she had until Jan. 31 to become a permanent resident of Crockett County. Lott adhered to the stipulation, and was hired on a permanent basis.

Now she’s asking to move back to Madison County. Lott pointed out that the director of Crockett County 911, Chad Reasons, does not live in the county either. State law does not require the administrator of elections to live in the county.

“I’m very pleased with the decision they made and I think it’s very fair, and that’s all I really asked — was for fairness,” Lott said Thursday. “I’m very appreciative, very humbled that they voted in my favor.”

Crockett County Election Commissioner Fred Powers, a Democrat, said if Lott moves she will be breaking a promise she made to the commission last fall. Powers and Jo Ann Hughes, the only other Democrat on the five-member commission, were outvoted.

“When you came here, you came here with our understanding that you were going to move to Crockett County, and you sat there and promised us you would stay in Crockett County,” Powers said.

“I know I can’t stop you, and I can’t stop you from approving it, but I want you to know up front I think you’re wrong in what you’re doing,” Powers told Lott and fellow commissioners at Thursday’s meeting.

Rusty Via, the newly appointed chairman of the commission, was the deciding vote on dropping the residency requirement from the bylaws.

“I think those conditions of employment unnecessarily hamstring this commission, hindering them from being able to select the best candidate for the job,” Via said.

…Three new Republican commissioners were appointed to the county’s Election Commission last week. Former commissioners Danny Moore, who was chairman, Tres Goldsby and Anthony Stallings were all replaced.

According to Moore, the three members were not reappointed to the commission because they disagreed with allowing Lott to move back to Madison County as administrator of elections.

“Mrs. Lott then contacted Mr. Jimmy Wallace, a (member) of the State Election Commission who effectively removed me and the other two Republican election commissioners because we would not allow Mrs. Lott to violate her agreement of maintaining a permanent residence in Crockett County,” Moore told The Jackson Sun in a written statement.

Wallace said he voted to appoint new members because he felt Moore’s position was “grossly unfair,” and that Goldsby and Stallings would follow Moore’s lead.

Former Haslam aide’s eligibility for Knox election commission seat questioned

A question has been raised about whether Hannah Parker, a former aide to Gov. Bill Haslam recently named to serve on the Knox County Election Commission, is eligible to serve because of a residency requirement in state law. But state Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the Knox County legislative delegation, tells Georgiana Vines that he’s checked with the appropriate official and she’s OK.

State law says election commissioners must be a resident of the county where they serve for at least two years.

Parker, 28, is a native of Knoxville, registered to vote in Knox County when she was 18 and is registered now. But there was about a 3½-year period when she was in Nashville working for Gov. Bill Haslam (Note: She had the title of deputy for operations) and living there that she was registered with the Davidson County Election Commission.

She returned to Knoxville last year.

Haynes, who is delegation chairman, said he talked Friday afternoon with Coordinator Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett about Parker’s eligibility.

“I am confident that Hannah is within the law to serve on the Election Commission,” Haynes, R-Knoxville, said. “I’d love to have her serve and speak only for myself. I am confident that she is eligible to serve.”
Earlier in the day he had said there were questions about her eligibility, and she might not be able to serve.

Appointments actually are made by the state Election Commission with those board members following recommendations of legislators…. Parker was appointed to replace Rob McNutt. The legislators named two other Republican incumbents for reappointment, lawyers Bob Bowman and Chris Heagerty.

…Parker said at the end of the day, she wants to operate out of an abundance of caution.

“I don’t want to do anything that makes the election process (seem not) above board,” Parker said.