RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Richland Countys new deputy director of voter registrations salary will be funded with money budgeted for a different position that was proposed but never filled, according to county officials.
Former elections director Lillian McBride will hold the post newly created for her at a salary of $74,600, $14,524 less than what she made as the states highest-paid county elections director. She will share duties previously handled by deputy director Garry Baum, who has been named deputy director of elections.
Wednesday, after a 40-minute closed-door meeting, the reorganization of the countys beleaguered elections office was announced by the Board of Elections & Voter Registration.
Board chairman Allen Dowdy did not have a written job description outlining McBrides new responsibilities, saying, I cant get into all that today. It was not clear whether responsibilities for other jobs in the office would change because of the new position. Dowdy claimed the proposed reorganization would save taxpayers money, but he could not provide the numbers.
Still to be determined is a salary and job description for the as-yet-hired elections director, who would supervise McBride and Baum.Jasper Salmond, a former school-board trustee and community leader, is serving as interim director.
McBride stepped down from her $89,124-a-year directors job this month, after Richland Countys Nov. 6 election fiasco that resulted in waits of up to seven hours for some voters and prompted others to leave in frustration before casting ballots.
Now, McBride returns to a position similar to the job she held 18 months ago, until the countys legislative delegation combined voter registration and elections into one office and put her in charge of it. Then, she made a salary of $66,429; now, shell make a salary of $74,600, an increase of $8,171.
Though Dowdy declined to discuss McBrides new duties, he said the new position was essential for the fact that we have so many people in the county that still arent registered. He said McBride also would help educate voters on ballot questions.
But at least three other large county election offices in South Carolina do not have middle-management positions specifically dedicated to supervising voter registration employees, like the one created for McBride. Typically, employees in the three counties Greenville, Charleston and York are cross-trained to work in both voter registration and elections, officials in those offices said.
The outdated model was having elections and voter registration separate, said Joe Debney, director of Charlestons elections office. But those two are intermingled and I dont think you can pull the two apart any more.
I work in both areas every single day.
Because they do not have similar positions to the one created for McBride, directors in the three counties said they couldnt judge whether her salary of $74,600 a year was fair compensation.
Still, Charlestons Debney noted, I have a deputy director, and he doesnt make that pay. I dont even make that pay.
Conway Belangia, the elections director in Greenville County, said the process of registering to vote has changed so much in recent years that duties have changed.
Most new voters register when they get their drivers licenses, he said, or they mail in applications rather than come to the central office to fill out paperwork. His office doesnt have time for voter registration drives, he said, so thats left to the political parties and civic groups.
Salmond said McBrides new job will be funded with unused money from a vacant elections liaison position.
McBride created the position when the countys separate voter registration and elections offices were merged, but some members of her board balked at the idea. An August 2011 news report described the post as one that would educate the public and encourage voter registration, with a salary as high as $81,958.
While the Richland County Board of Elections & Voter Registration is making changes to the offices organization, county government must foot the bill. That means Richland County Council ultimately will have to approve the budget for new positions and other changes to the elections office and taxpayers will pay for it.
County Council also is likely to see a larger proposed budget for the elections office.
Wednesday, Salmond said he and the board needed to get to work on a 2013-14 budget request. His proposed budget would be for $1,228,574 up from $1,172,111 this year. But board members declined Wednesday to discuss the details, saying the figures were preliminary.
Resident David Oberly attended Tuesday nights County Council meeting to urge members not to fund the position for McBride. The four-member board of elections directed Salmond to offer McBride the job at that salary.
Thats a lot of money, said Oberly, who lives near Forest Acres.
He said it was wrong to create a job for McBride and pay her handsomely when she admitted incompetence. The job wasnt even posted so others could compete, he noted.
But Oberlys comments fell flat, when Councilman Greg Pearce responded the council had no part in the decision.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Joe McEachern, D-Richland, said he couldnt be more disappointed in the process.
He said it appears the election commission hired an interim director just to make a place for McBride in the elections office. I just think $75,000 is a huge salary, he added.
Once a permanent director is hired, thats the time to consider deputy directors, said McEachern, who sat on County Council before becoming a legislator.
I had a constituent grab me by the arm Sunday evening and he said, Joe, youve got to understand, voting is the gateway to all of our rights. And right now he has no confidence in voting in Richland County.
Im getting this from so many of my constituents. They have compassion upon Ms. McBride but the problem we have right now is (no) integrity in the process.
Dowdy and Salmond said repeatedly during Wednesdays meeting they intend to restore public confidence in the system.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.