Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Oct. 6 newspaper on Page A1.
The Secretary of State’s office has been clear in demanding the Athens County Board of Elections make changes to its human resources policy.
Now the Athens County Commissioners and county auditor have jumped in to give specific recommendations for how the elections office should proceed.
The three commissioners and County Auditor Jill Thompson sent a recent letter to the elections board. In it, they offered seven changes the elections staff should implement in an attempt to fix issues highlighted in a recent audit of the office.
As previously reported by The Messenger, the elections office has taken heat for not having a formal human resources policy; for having employed relatives of Director Debbie Quivey; and for having wrongfully overpaid eight employees a total of $1,603. That money has since been returned, and the elections board chairperson called the mistake a “simple clerical error.”
Auditor Thompson refuted that point in a recent meeting with the commissioners, saying she hopes the elections board staff “will take us seriously.”
“I’m really troubled by the appearance of the responses we’re receiving on what I feel is a really serious issue for county government and for us,” Thompson said. “This isn’t just a simple clerical error, this isn’t a misunderstanding.”
The elections office features a four-person staff: a director, an assistant director and two clerks. The office is further overseen by an actual “election board” of four members, led by Kate McGuckin.
The commissioners/auditor letter notes that the office should determine what powers have been delegated to the staff in terms of personnel decisions. The Secretary of State’s office has recommended that staff hirings be made by the governing board rather than by the staff itself.
The county officials called for the elections board to:
- Adopt new policies and procedures related to personnel
- Adopt a provision that prohibits overtime from being paid to employees who do not “physically work” 40 hours a week. (The letter notes that elections employees have previously utilized sick and vacation hours to generate overtime earnings.)
- Document leave accruals with the county auditor’s office
- Declare the director and assistant director’s positions at the elections office exempt from overtime accrual
The Board of Elections met on Oct. 2 to discuss personnel, and spent the entire meeting in private executive session.
“I think transparency would have gone a long way in preventing this behavior,” Thompson said. “To me, this is a very serious act that was deliberate and appears to go back a number of years.”
In an earlier letter to the elections board, Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered the board to formally adopt timekeeping and human resources policies by Friday, Oct. 18.
There is a separate issue the county officials are bringing to the attention of the elections board. A few part-time elections workers have performed maintenance and cosmetic work at the office, such as painting.
Commissioner Lenny Eliason noted that county employees are not allowed to conduct maintenance on their offices, and the work should be approved and conducted through proper channels, such as the county maintenance department. He said the problem with unauthorized staff conducting maintenance is possible litigation if the staff members are hurt while working.
The commissioners agreed to send another letter to the elections board about this issue — the second time they have warned the elections office about unauthorized maintenance work in the past six months.
Commissioner Chris Chmiel asked how the issue could be enforced, noting there were no consequences listed in the previous maintenance memo. Eliason warned they could cut the Board of Elections’ budget if the practice continues.