Elections chief job now open

Friday, May 13, 2011

An investigation is being conducted by Marshall County's Election Commission which voted on Wednesday to call for applications from people who would like to be the elections administrator, the commission's chairman said that morning.

Elections Administrator Jo Ann Henry "was asked to take her personal property out of the office this morning and turn in her keys," Election Commission Chairman Don Wright said. "That's not to be indicative of her having done something wrong."

Henry was on leave Wednesday afternoon when she declined to comment at that time and deferred questions to "the election commissioners and let them address the issue at hand until further notice."

Her absence, Wright said, "is to be in all fairness to the other applicants."

If Henry "wants to apply" for the position, Wright said, "she may. She was given the opportunity to resign, but she didn't want to resign."

Election Commissioner Fred Fleischer made the motion to advertise for applicants for the position of elections administrator and to permit Henry to apply, Wright said. Voting yes were Fleischer, Wright and Lisa Laster. Voting no were Steve Allen and Chundra Davis.

Davis was the only election commissioner who voted against the second substantive motion of the morning; to investigate any complaints about the operation of the elections office.

"The investigation of complaints will not affect the outcome of who is hired," Wright said.

The 4-1 vote, according to Wright, causes an announcement saying that if there are any forthcoming complaints, then they would be investigated to determine whether they are valid or not.

"The election commission will investigate," Wright said, emphasizing, "all five members" are to participate.

"If someone has a problem, or feels like they have not been able to vote" then they should bring the matter to the attention of the commission, Wright said of the commission's decision.

At least one complaint has been made known to the Tribune since election officials were consulted on the evening of May 3 when the reply was that there had been no problems, or that they were not aware of incidents that might be out of the ordinary.

In fact, on Election Day last week, David Kennedy of Franklin Pike left a message for Mayor Barbara Woods saying he and his wife ought to be able to vote in the city election May 3. If not, they want their property tax payments refunded, the mayor said.

The Tribune was told about a problem encountered by Kennedy's wife, Barbara, a member of the school board now and when land was annexed to the city to extend city water and sewer service to Oak Grove Elementary School. The Kennedys live near the school as does former Schools Director John David Pierce.

As residents of Ward 5, they would vote at Westhills Elementary School where Barbara Kennedy went to vote on Tuesday last week.

That's where and when a county election official - hired for that election day - "said, 'You're not on the register," Barbara Kennedy reported Wednesday. "And I said 'I need to be. I pay taxes.'"

Election officials at the poll called Henry to confirm their understanding of the records they had at the poll, Kennedy continued. The response, as Kennedy understood it from the poll workers, was that Henry said, based on the map and voter register, the Kennedy house was not in the city limits.

Kennedy's first response was like her husband's.

"Since I paid my city property taxes since 2009, then I would expect to be allowed to vote in the city election or have my taxes refunded," she said.

Kennedy said so out loud at the poll.

Kennedy obtained Henry's office number and called by cell phone when she got to her car where she learned, again, the election commission's voter register and map show that she's not a city resident and not registered to vote in a Lewisburg election.

She knows she's a city resident, "because I was on the school board when the property ... was annexed to allow for water and sewer service" to Oak Grove School, Kennedy said. The city "extended water and sewer lines down Franklin Pike to the point where they could serve the school."

To do so, she said, "They annexed the property."

Kennedy called City Hall, left a message and then later spoke with Buck Beard, the stormwater director, who was previously in public works. She said he told her that they "looked at the map and you can go vote," Kennedy said.

"About 20 minutes after Mr. Beard called, Mrs. Henry called and said that it was resolved and all I had to do was go vote," Kennedy said.

Wednesday, and in a second phone call Thursday, Kennedy emphasized that she didn't think she was mistreated, "But I'm appalled at the oversight... It's just my house and Mr. Pierce's house."

The land was annexed in 2007. The Kennedys built their house in 2009.

"It was just a clerical error," she said. "I don't think anybody was trying to take away my right to vote."

As for whether she will respond to election commissioners' call for complaints, or information about their office, Kennedy said she does not believe what happened to her justifies a complaint, but that she may feel it is her civic duty to explain what happened to the commissioners.