Election board makes new hire

Friday, May 27, 2011

After two tied votes, three Marshall County election commissioners voted to hire a new employee to succeed the incumbent administrator of elections who was supported by the other two commissioners.

The deadlock began to break when Commissioner Fred Fleischer voted for Tristan Arnold who'd been nominated by Commissioner Lisa Laster. It was then up to Commission Chairman Don Wright. He changed his vote from Fleischer's nominee, Jim Rucker.

Arnold told the commissioners she's college educated in databases, a subject of interest to Fleischer who reported candidate complaints that now-former Elections Administrator Jo Ann Henry quickly provided a candidate with a CD with voter registration data, but would appear to have needed several days to do so for another candidate.

"If I didn't have this feeling that Jo Ann has some political bias," Fleischer said late in the meeting, "I'd say she's the best person... I want someone in there who has no bias."

Henry read a prepared statement during her interview.

"Some on this board have assumed that I am a Democrat, but the law does not require anyone in the state to register as a Democrat or Republican... The only time you ever know how someone voted is in a primary ... and that only means ... you voted the Democrat or Republican ballot. It does not mean that you are a Democrat or Republican...

"Complaints are part of any public service job," Henry said. "As long as you work and you're human, you're going to make mistakes. I know in my heart I have done what's right."

Arnold used a computer application called Speed Quote when working for a manufacturer, Big Time Toys, a job she left to start a family. Married with children, she lives "out in the county" on Yell Road. Arnold left her last job because of a one-hour, one-way commute, she told the commissioners, listing her assets as working well with others, being a quick learner and a hard worker.

"Complaints" about the administrator, Commissioner Steve Allen said in a prepared statement, are "a charge against the integrity of this office ... (and) ... against each one of us as commissioners." He called for a vigorous investigation, including interviews with complainants to prove or disprove complaints.

"If the complaints are found to be without merit, we should reinstate ... Henry," Allen said. If complaints have merit, corrections are required. Voting on applicants Wednesday was "premature."

Five interviews were conducted. Tina Rogers and Laura Ann Neece were not nominated. Marlissa Ann Wallace withdrew. Wallace received 20 points when 17 of 20 applicants were ranked. Arnold received 18, the second highest number of points. The others interviewed received 16 points each.

Interview questions from Commissioner Chundra Davis revealed Henry has the most experience, but Wright and Fleischer made it clear at various times this week that the shift in political power at the state House changed the balance at election commissions so, here, there are three Republican election commissioners and two Democrats. The vote for Arnold followed party lines.

Rucker told commissioners he was the campaign manager for state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) "the first time he ran." Rucker has also sought elected office and he campaigned for County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett. Rucker's taught boys in apprentice positions how to lay brick, he said. He applied because he needs a job and feels he's qualified.

After nominations closed, Wright described the three, saying: Arnold has two college degrees; Henry is a certified administrator with 13 years experience; and Rucker's voted in every election, has lived here 25 years, took computer classes at the community college and is active in civic affairs including serving as Santa Claus and putting up Christmas trees.

If commissioners "put in names a hat and draw, I'd be happy," Fleischer said. Laster noted Arnold's experience with databases, but acknowledged awareness of election laws presents a steep learning curve "even for someone with experience."

Davis pointed out that in a few months the county faces redistricting because of federal law and the 2010 census, but Wright indicated the county might hire a consultant for that job.

Wright proposed that Arnold be sworn in Monday. Then noting that's Memorial Day, Tuesday was considered. However, the courthouse square was recognized as a potential and possibly suitable place on Memorial Day.