Richland election

Richland County elec. chief paid more than peers in SC

Her $89,124 tops Greenville, Charleston salaries

jmonk@thestate.comNovember 30, 2012 

Richland County Elections Director Lillian McBride address the Richland County legislative delegation during a hearing about what went wrong in the Nov. 6 Richland County elections.

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • Tallying up the salaries The directors of the Elections and Voter Registration boards in S.C.’s three largest counties have roughly equal jobs — registering voters and carrying out elections. But their pay varies widely. Richland County Director: Lillian McBride Salary: $89,124 Budget: $1.2 million Voters: 237,913 Greenville County Director: Conway Belangia Salary: $80,000 Budget: $852,000 Voters: 281,215 Charleston County Director: Joe Debney Salary: $73,964 Budget: $1.5 million Voters: 237,026

INSIDE

Lillian McBride, who on Nov. 6 oversaw the state’s most bungled elections, earns $89,124, according to county pay records released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The State.

Richland County elections chief Lillian McBride is paid nearly as much as the chief of the State Election Commission and more than her counterparts in South Carolina’s other two largest counties.

McBride, who on Nov. 6 oversaw the state’s most bungled elections, earns $89,124, according to county pay records released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The State.

State election chief Marci Andino, whose agency oversees elections statewide, makes $90,281 — just $1,157 more than McBride.

McBride never oversaw an election before she was installed in her job in July 2011 as head of the newly merged Elections & Voter Registration Office. She previously had been head of the county’s voter registration office.

Charleston County elections chief Joe Debney makes $73,964. Debney, who took the job in 2011, had worked three years as elections chief in Dorchester County. Before that, he was with the State Election Commission.

Greenville County elections chief Conway Belangia makes $80,000. He has had the job 20 years.

Like McBride, Debney and Belangia oversee elections — including training poll workers and making sure enough working voting machines get to precincts — along with voter registration.

Charleston County has 183 precincts and 237,026 registered voters. Greenville County has 153 precincts and 281,215 registered voters. Richland County has 124 precincts and 237,913 registered voters, according to the State Election Commission.

Unlike McBride, the lesser-paid Belangia and Debney ran smooth elections, say people familiar with their November elections.

“Conway runs a good ship,” said Greenville County Republican Party chairwoman Betty Poe. “Our election went well.”

S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, who monitored Charleston County elections, said, “They went well. I didn’t hear any complaints about voting machine breakdowns or not enough machines.”

Seven pay raises since 2008

In recent years, McBride’s taxpayer-funded salary has not been subject to the pay freezes common to many workers in government as well as private business.

Since 2008, McBride has had seven pay raises.

Her first three pay raises came while she was head of the Richland County Voter Registration Board. On July 1, 2008, McBride’s salary was raised to $53,298 from $51,846. On Jan. 1, 2009, she received a raise to $55,323. On July 3, 2010, she received a raise to $66,429.

On July 1, 2011, McBride assumed control of elections as well as voter registration, from Mike Cinnamon, who previously had run the county elections office.

On that day, McBride received a raise to $67,518.

A day later, McBride received another raise — to $85,000.

Six weeks later, McBride received a raise to $86,394.

On June 30, 2012, McBride received a raise to her current $89,124.

McBride’s raises from 2008 to 2010, before she assumed her responsibility for the merged elections and voter registration office, were due, at least in part, to an effort to pay her in line with former elections director Cinnamon, according to news accounts at the time.

In July 2008, Cinnamon made $66,013. When he left office, at the end of June 2011, his salary was $68,521.

McBride received her raise from $66,429 to $85,000 in July 2011 because she was assuming the duties of Cinnamon’s elections office as well as the voter registration efforts that she previously had led, officials have said.

McBride’s salary was set at $85,000 because it was near the average of the salaries of her counterparts in Greenville and Charleston counties, said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, chairman of the Richland County legislative delegation, which named McBride to the merged post in mid-2011 and to whom she directly reports today.

That average now would be about $77,000. But Jackson said the delegation used the salary of former Charleston County elections chief Marilyn Bowers, who made about $93,000 a year, to come up with McBride’s salary. Bowers’ successor, Debney, was hired at $72,500 and now makes $73,964.

Well-paid assistants

Since adding Cinnamon’s responsibilities, McBride has hired two employees paid salaries in the mid- or high-$60,000 range, according to information released by state and county government under the paper’s open records request.

They are:

• Garry Baum, McBride’s deputy director. McBride hired Baum in July 2011 for $66,500. Baum now earns $68,630. When he left the State Election Commission, where he had worked some 18 years, Baum earned $55,287.

Baum is the brother-in-law of state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, one of the members of the Richland County legislative delegation that hired McBride. In an interview, Lourie said he did not “in any way” influence the hiring of Baum.

However, Lourie said he was glad McBride hired two experienced staffers from the State Election Commission to help her out, since she lacked the experience that departing elections director Cinnamon had. Cinnamon had overseen county elections for some 38 years.

Garry Baum declined comment.

• Cheryl Goodwin, election systems coordinator. McBride hired Goodwin in July 2011 for $65,699, her current salary. Prior to joining McBride’s office, Goodwin made $51,273 at the State Election Commission, where she had worked 17 years. Press accounts at the time describe Goodwin as “an expert on voting machines and the creation of election databases.”

Another of elections office employee, voter registration manager Elizabeth Cromer Epps, earns $65,999, according to county records.

Together, the salaries of McBride, Baum, Goodwin and Epps total $289,753, or almost a quarter of the county Elections & Voter Registration Office’s budget of $1.2 million.

Other than to confirm that she hired Lourie’s brother-in-law, Baum, McBride declined comment.

Investigating the debacle

On Nov. 6, the elections process McBride oversaw was marked by voting lines with waits of up to seven hours at some precincts, due to a shortage of working voting machines. Untold numbers of would-be voters gave up trying to cast ballots because they had to get back to work or take care of children.

McBride’s performance, and that of her office, now is the subject of an investigation by attorney Steven Hamm. The Richland County Election Commission, the board that oversees the elections office, hired Hamm in the wake of numerous complaints by voters and other officials.

Jackson said Thursday he hopes people will wait before reaching a judgment until Hamm’s investigation is finished — perhaps by late December — so the facts will be known about what went wrong. Except for an appearance at Monday’s legislative delegation hearing and brief statements Nov. 6, McBride has not spoken publicly about the massive elections breakdown.

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