Editorial: If McBride is to get new Richland County job, say so

January 9, 2013 

— NOW THAT Lillian McBride has finally done the right thing and stepped down as director of elections in Richland County, officials can move past this sad saga and begin repairing the public’s broken trust in the county’s ability to stage smooth, unquestioned elections. Right?

Not exactly. Anyone who thought this matter could end in a nice, clean separation between Ms. McBride and the county hasn’t been paying attention. The same dysfunctional structure that landed Ms. McBride the director’s job, setting the county on a path toward the Election Day disaster that left voters waiting for hours to cast ballots and caused others to not vote at all, now seems likely to allow her to remain employed in the Elections and Voter Registration office.

That won’t sit well with many members of the public. Quite frankly, it’s not unreasonable to argue that Ms. McBride was paid handsomely to do a job, failed the public and deserved to be fired without any special treatment.

We don’t have a problem with Ms. McBride possibly being placed in a position for which she has the skills — at an appropriate salary. But we’re troubled by the clandestine manner in which members of the county elections board, the legislative delegation and who knows who else orchestrated what appears to be a deal to keep her employed. What’s most troubling is that it’s part and parcel of the system, which must be changed, that placed Ms. McBride in a position that she couldn’t handle in the first place.

Taking advantage of an archaic system that allows legislators to appoint the county elections board and otherwise interfere in local elections, the Richland legislative delegation passed a law creating a merged office of elections and voter registration and gave the top job to Ms. McBride, who had never overseen an election, without even considering other candidates.

But despite the public outcry following the Nov. 6 fiasco, the county delegation that hired Ms. McBride had no authority to remove her; besides, its leader, Sen. Darrell Jackson, has doggedly defended her. And the board of elections, which could fire her, had no desire to. So it’s no surprise that arrangements were made to make Ms. McBride’s departure easier.

Yet elections officials are acting as if there’s no guarantee Ms. McBride will remain in the office, even though they’ve urged Jasper Salmond, whom they’ve named as acting director of the office, to hire her. While board members say it’s up to Mr. Salmond to assign new duties to Ms. McBride, they adopted a resolution that urges him to place her in her old position overseeing voter registration.

Elections officials shouldn’t insult the public’s intelligence. If they’re not open and aboveboard, they will further erode the public trust. Leaving people in the dark only leads to rumors and innuendo that Ms. McBride is getting yet another sweet deal. The best way to combat that is to be transparent: If Ms. McBride is to be employed in the office, say so.

We have no qualms about Mr. Salmond acting as caretaker for a couple of months until a permanent director is chosen. The former Richland 1 elementary school principal and former member of the Richland District 1 school board is a well-respected member of this community with unquestioned credibility.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Neither Mr. Salmond nor the next permanent director can cure what ails Richland County’s elections process, which is a mangled mess.

Ultimately, lawmakers must abolish local boards and give the State Elections Commission full authority — and funding — to run elections. In the meantime, Richland’s elections board should quickly settle the matter with Ms. McBride and then turn its full attention to hiring a knowledgeable, qualified director with a history of running successful elections.

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