Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Oct. 20 newspaper on Page A1.
County elections officials say they have complied with state demands to make changes to their office following reports of possible nepotism, misuse of public funds and lack of structured human resource policies.
County Elections Director Debbie Quivey and Deputy Director Penny Brooks say they met Friday’s deadline from the Secretary of State to report intended changes regarding their office.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose is visiting their office on Monday to review these proposed changes and discuss general elections management in Athens County. This is said to be part of a statewide tour by LaRose of all 88 counties’ elections offices.
The Messenger reported last month that a state audit found “significant deficiencies” within the Athens County Board of Elections office. It found the office did not have a human resources department, nor had adopted any formal HR policies.
The audit recorded improper overtime payments totaling $1,603 to eight elections employees, two of which are related to Quivey. The money has since been repaid.
The results of this audit led to condemnation from the Secretary of State, which oversees county elections offices. LaRose said he was “disappointed” and set an Oct. 18 deadline for proposed changes to be made. The county commissioners and county auditor also sent a letter to the office with suggestions of their own.
Quivey and Brooks addressed the audit and subsequent fallout in an interview with The Messenger on Friday. The two said they have complied with LaRose’s deadline and have worked “diligently” on developing new policies for their office.
“We’ve done what has been required, so we’re ready to get back to what we do best: running fair and honest elections,” Quivey said.
The office is led by Quivey, a Republican, and by Brooks, a Democrat, and also includes a pair of clerks from both political parties. There is an actual “election board” of four members (led by Kate McGuckin), which oversees those working in the office and makes sure election rules are being followed. The Messenger reached out to that board for comment and was referred to the director and deputy director.
Quivey said she and Brooks had worked with members of the elections board to create a human resources and personnel policy manual. Some of the policies were adopted from the Athens County Commissioners, while others, such as the timekeeping and overtime policies, were created by the elections board and staff.
The two said the overtime payments reported were not “done intentionally” and noted the money was immediately repaid.
While not specifically addressing the state’s concern about nepotism, they said changes have been made to the hiring of elections office personnel. Quivey said the two will make recommendations, and the four-person governing board will make the actual hiring and firing decisions.
Quivey said the policies will be implemented and made publicly available after the Secretary of State gives his approval.
Asked for their general reactions to the past month of dealing with these issues, Quivey said she and the others are ready to put the matter behind them.
“I think there was an audit done, I think there are two sides to every story,” Quivey said. “I think we’ve done what we set out to do, and met the requirements.”
Quivey believes this has been an opportunity to pull the office and elections board together.
Brooks commented that the changes have been made and the office is “moving a step forward.”