RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Minutes before the Richland County Legislative Delegation might have taken a vote of no confidence Wednesday on embattled county elections director Lillian McBride, a lawyer for McBride told lawmakers she will step down in January, according to a Richland County lawmaker.
Her lawyer, John Nichols of Columbia, told the lawmakers about McBrides intentions in an executive session closed to reporters, said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.
Rutherford, who left the meeting early, made his comment to reporters as he left the meeting, held at the Gressette Senate office building on State House grounds.
Rutherford also said discussions were underway to find McBride another job, possibly returning her to her old post as chief of county voter registration, something I understand she was quite good at.
Reporters then tweeted the news out and filed dispatches to their news organizations Internet sites to the effect that McBride was resigning from her $89,124-a-year post.
Ten minutes later, delegation members more than a dozen state senators and representatives left their closed-door meeting, refusing all comment about what transpired.
McBrides lawyer, Nichols, hurried from the meeting, also declining comment. I have to speak with my client, he said.
An hour later, McBride who for weeks has refused to speak to reporters about the bungled Nov. 6 county election put out a press release. It said:
Dear valued members of the press: This is to inform you that I have not submitted my resignation to the Board of Elections and Voter Registration or to the members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation. Any discussion of this is entirely premature and erroneous.
Reached later, Rutherford said there was no real conflict between his statement and her statement.
She is technically correct. She hasnt resigned yet. But she will resign on Jan. 8 thats what we were told, Rutherford said.
Rutherford said McBride wouldnt submit her resignation to the delegation. The resignation would go to the county Board of Elections & Voter Registration, the citizen panel appointed by the lawmakers that oversees McBrides office.
Wednesday morning, The State reported that nine members of the 16-member legislative delegation believed McBride was unfit to lead the elections office. Some members said they wanted to hold a vote of no confidence a vote that almost certainly would have gone against McBride.
McBride has been executive director of the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office since July 2011, appointed unanimously by the delegation.
In having her lawyer make it clear to delegation members that she intends to step down, McBride appeared at last to be taking a decisive step to quell a furious controversy that has only escalated since the Nov. 6 election.
Although for six weeks numerous citizens and public officials have made repeated expressions of outrage about McBrides role in the election, McBride has remained largely silent. On the one occasion she did speak publicly, she blamed an unnamed employee for many of the election problems.
However, the boards preliminary investigative report, issued Dec. 6, found she was largely responsible for the election fiasco, which many have called one of the most bungled county elections in modern state history.
That election was marked was marked by severe shortages of voting machines at the countys 124 precincts and long lines with waits of five hours or more.
Other problems included numerous inoperable machines, an unknown number of voters giving up their right to vote because of the long lines and later, uncounted ballots being found in the office and on several voting machines.
Various precinct managers have told The State they warned McBrides office weeks in advance of machine shortages but said their warnings werent heeded.
Throughout the controversy, McBride has been publicly supported by several prominent longtime lawmakers on the county legislative delegation, including Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, and Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, as well as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
But as members of the public continued to hound the lawmakers with complaints about the election, more and more individuals on the delegation began to say publicly that McBride must go.
Although the delegation has no legal authority over McBrides position, its members have a certain moral authority and occupy a bully pulpit that McBride could apparently no longer ignore.
One tipping point almost certainly came Monday evening, when Liz Crum, chairwoman of the county Elections Board and a respected Columbia lawyer, announced publicly that McBride should resign.
When the other members of her board refused to take any disciplinary action against McBride, Crum resigned herself, effective Tuesday.
After extreme soul-searching ... I no longer have confidence in Ms. Mc-Brides ability to lead the office, said Crum, who had worked with McBride since 1998 while McBride oversaw the countys voter registration office. Crum said that restoring voter trust in the county elections office required a new director.
John Crangle, a Columbia lawyer who has represented government workers in labor disputes, said Wednesday that whats likely going on with Nichols and McBride is that they are negotiating how she will leave her post as the highest-paid county elections director in South Carolina.
If I were her lawyer, I wouldnt let her resign without getting these things settled, said Crangle, who is also executive director of S.C. Common Cause, a government watchdog group. She is probably negotiating right now either to be transferred to a post with a comparable salary or a one-way ticket out for which she is very well paid.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.