Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips has fired Fiscal Services Administrator Ron Jones effective Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. Jones had been in charge of the department’s operating budget of more than $250 million, while overseeing facilities, procurement and telecommunications, according to a biography on the state government website.
Former commissioner Karla Davis chose Jones for the role in July 2011.
Davis, and two other top officials she hired, resigned in mid-March, just days before publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Hiring in Davis’s administration has led to two lawsuits charging that leaders discriminated against white employees by forcing them out and hiring black replacements. Davis and three hand-picked officials who have since resigned are black.
Four days after the Davidson County Election Commission fired its top administrator, the State Election Commission accepted the final version of the blistering review that led to his termination, reports The Tennessean. The panel approved State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins’ report with little discussion Monday afternoon. Chairman Kent Younce said he didn’t see “any useful purpose” in dissecting the report after the Davidson County Election Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to fire Election Administrator Albert Tieche.
Goins made a few changes to his draft of the report but still found “an unacceptable pattern of serious errors” throughout the 2012 election cycle, which “led to an erosion of confidence” in Davidson County’s election operations.
The review found problems with legal notices, sample ballots, voting technology, staffing at polling places and other practices. It criticized Tieche for failing to open early voting for the presidential preference primary on a Saturday, a mistake the State Election Commission reprimanded him for a year ago.
Goins noted that the Davidson County Election Commission “has acknowledged ‘various irregularities or mistakes’ in its response to this review.”
Albert Tieche is out at the Davidson County Election Commission, and Commissioner Jim Gotto announced he will be leaving as well, reports The City Paper. After a heated meeting where tempers where high and accusations flew, the commission voted 4 to 1 to fire Tieche from his post as administrator of elections. The decision follows a highly critical report from the state, detailing numerous problems with the execution of elections over the last year.
Before the vote, Gotto — a newly appointed Republican commissioner — accused Chairman Ron Buchanan of “fast-tracking” the process, and harboring a “deep personal bias” against Tieche. Gotto will remain on the commission through July 31, or until state Republicans can find a replacement.
“You’ve lost my respect and my trust,” Gotto told Buchanan, to loud applause from a room full of Republican activists who shared his displeasure with the chairman.
Both Tieche and Gotto left the meeting without comment.
Tieche appeared to be in trouble from the minute the meeting was called to order. As the crowded hearing room of reporters, activists, and a couple of Metro Council members looked on, a clearly agitated Buchanan began a lengthy statement by addressing the stream of mean emails he had received in recent weeks, some of which he said may have even crossed the line into being criminally threatening.
He also denied the rumors in those emails that he had been appointed with a directive to fire Tieche. In fact, he said, the only directive he and the other new commissioners received, aside from carrying out the duties of the commission, was to stay out of the headlines. Buchanan acknowledged that they had “failed miserably” at that goal.
The chairman went on to summarize a number of problems cited in state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins’ review of the commission, including failure to open on a Saturday during early voting, understaffed and under-resourced polling places, inadequately trained poll workers, and issuing conflicting reports regarding voter participation to the state. Along the way, Buchanan rejected just about every defense Tieche had offered for the failings.
Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche survived to work another day after enduring sometimes testy questioning by his bosses, who took a scathing state review to heart but decided not to discipline him after a nearly five-hour meeting on Friday, according to The Tennessean. Tieche still could face a tough road if state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, the author of the draft review, moves to decertify him once Goins presents his final report to state election commissioners next month. Through a spokesman, Goins declined to comment Friday night.
The five Davidson County election commissioners decided to respond to Goins’ review in the way that Metro attorneys advised — by acknowledging about a dozen errors and issues and succinctly saying how they’d try to avoid repeating them. They did not adopt Tieche’s much longer, more personal and sometimes feisty response to Goins, though the administrator and his own attorney, Art McClellan, said they might still submit it to the state.
Ron Buchanan, the election commission’s chairman and one of four new members, said any decisions about Tieche’s future would come later. Buchanan and other election commissioners dodged questions about their confidence in Tieche’s ability to conduct fair elections.
“There’s going to have to be some mending of fences and changes of procedures to restore voter confidence,” said Buchanan, a Republican.
“We’re going to move forward,” said A.J. Starling, a Democrat.
In a document longer than the review that prompted it, Tieche contested virtually every charge made by Goins. He wrote that the review “focuses on fault and blame rather than fostering improvement.”
“A casual review of the draft report would cause one to conclude that it is written to be personal in nature.”
For example, where Goins said the election commission’s use of faulty technology in some precincts in the August primary was “shocking” and that it could have influenced the outcomes of two House races, Tieche took offense at the use of that term and said there were just 106 voter history errors out of more than 12,000 votes cast with the technology.
Tieche also said that he took “great exception” to Goins’ claim that disciplinary actions against employees who talked to state investigators in late January had been backdated to December so they wouldn’t appear retaliatory. “That is a direct attack on my character,” he said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche has hired an attorney to help him respond to a report on the commission’s management of last year’s elections.
Problems included failing to open the polls on a Saturday during early voting; machines that sometimes defaulted to the Republican ballot during the primary; and shortages of poll workers, printed forms, parking and phone lines on Election Day.
Tieche told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/11wT1xK) a draft of the state’s report frequently focuses on him. He declined to make it available, saying it’s not a public record until he and the commission have a chance to respond.
Tieche said he didn’t think the state had ever examined any county in that way.
All three Republican commissioners and one of two Democrats were replaced by state lawmakers recently after the commission considered a plan to investigate the citizenship status of all foreign-born voters.
The new commission met for the first time on Friday, and Tieche revealed that he had hired a lawyer at that meeting.
Some commissioners seemed to be caught off guard by that admission, since the Metro Law Department regularly advises the agency. The commission ultimately voted to require Tieche and his attorney to run their response by Metro attorneys before sending it to the state.
Metro Nashville conducted its own audit of the commission recently. The city found some problems but concluded that the agency has controls in place to ensure the integrity of elections.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Shelby County’s administrator of elections failed to properly plan for redistricting, which led to errors in the August elections, a report by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has revealed.
Federal, state and local legislative district boundaries must be updated every 10 years to account for population shifts reflected in new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, for several months, the Shelby County Commission was stalemated on approval of a plan for redistricting at the local level.
In January, the county’s administrator of elections initiated a process for redrawing the county district lines based upon a plan that had been discussed by the commission, but not approved. The county’s elections staff continued work on that process until mid-May, still with no commission-approved plan in place.
The Shelby County Election Commission has voted unanimously to suspend administrator of elections Richard Holden for three days without pay in October, with probation of six months to follow, reports the Commercial Appeal. Election Commission member George Monger said the board voted Aug. 29 to suspend Holden because of personnel issues in the office and problems with the Aug. 2 election, in which thousands of voters received the wrong ballots.
During Holden’s probation, he will have to modify his management style, Monger said. Another provision of his probation is that the November election will have to run successfully.
“We had a host, a series of issues in the August election and because of that, the buck stops at the top,” Monger said. The disciplinary action was “certainly justified,” he said.
Davidson County’s election administrator was formally reprimanded by state officials Monday for failing to open the polls on a Saturday during the early voting period for the March 6 presidential primary, reports The Tennessean. But the State Election Commission decided not to pursue further disciplinary action against Albert Tieche after he acknowledged his mistake without a fight and said he had not intended to break state law. The commission could have gone so far as to decertify Tieche as an election administrator if it had voted to proceed with a “show cause” hearing, but that wasn’t likely to happen until February, after the state gets through this year’s primary and general elections.
None of Tennessee’s 94 other counties closed their polls on Feb. 18, the first Saturday of the early voting period, State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said. That fell on the Presidents Day holiday weekend, and Tieche said he and his staff thought they didn’t have to open then, based on historical precedents.
But Tieche’s decision ignored the schedule his own bosses on the Davidson County Election Commission had agreed to in October, Goins said.
After more than 28 years at the helm and five days away from the start of early voting, the Washington County Election Commission voted 3-2 to fire Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks, reports the Johnson City Press. “I had no warning,” Sinks said by telephone Friday.
Exactly one week ago, Sinks fired one staff member and demoted another for sending a handwritten cover letter to three commission members in November asking that they use accompanying materials for a meeting that may or may not have occurred. An employee found the letter in a box of documents that were about to be shredded.
At that meeting, Sinks informed commissioners of her actions and blasted Chairwoman Janet Willis, and commissioners Jon Ruetz and Thomas Graham for being the recipients, or intended recipients of the letter without her knowledge and for not providing public notice of a meeting.
All three commissioners denied receiving the letter, a copy of which clearly shows them as the intended recipients. They also denied there was ever a meeting.
When she showed up Friday morning for a continuation of last week’s meeting, the same three people voted to fire her after Willis stood and read aloud a prepared statement that asked for a vote on Sinks’ termination.
“I had a feeling they were working behind my back,” Sinks said. “I felt like there would be retribution. Basically, they felt I had humiliated the commissioners for saying they hadn’t put out a public notice. Janet told me to take my pocketbook and leave my office keys and that they’d see that I got my personal items back. I went to my office and was out of there in about five minutes.”
Washington County Election Commission Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks fired one staff member and demoted another Friday, reports the Johnson City Press. The offense: Sending a handwritten cover letter to three members in November asking that they use accompanying materials for a meeting that may or may not have occurred. “You can’t run elections when you don’t trust your staff,” Sinks said.
After consultation with County Attorney John Rambo, Sinks fired Rebecca Vines, an administrative assistant, for insubordination, claiming the employee alerted the three members about the November meeting and that public notice was never given.
The letter was discovered in a box of documents that were ready to be shredded.
In the letter, Vines writes that she is including a list of 2012 election information prepared for the meeting and that “I have handwritten this cover letter because I didn’t want to risk it with the office computer.” Vines also wrote that “Maybell and I wanted to get this material to you quickly so you will be ready for your lunch meeting this coming Monday.”