RICHLAND COUNTY ELECTIONS MESS

EXCLUSIVE: Richland’s new elections chief reports working 93 hours a week at 3 jobs

jmonk@thestate.comMay 25, 2013 

Howard Jackson

  • A BUNGLED HIRING PROCESS Lillian McBride was demoted to deputy elections director after voters waited in line as long as seven hours to vote in November. Like the election, the hiring process for a new director also has been fraught with problems:

    Citizens committee fails to name finalists. The four-member citizens search committee interviewing candidates narrowed the field to three finalists but would not name them, in what a media expert says is a violation of state law, The State newspaper reports April 25. Members of the search committee, like members of the election board that oversaw the botched November elections, were appointed by the Richland County legislative delegation.

    Committee chairman misunderstands attorney, fails to tell candidates their names would be released. Search committee member Sue Berkowitz tells The State newspaper on April 26 that she was misled by the chairman, Herbert Sims. She said Sims told the committee that, according to Richland County’s attorney, Larry Smith, finalists’ names could not be announced without their permission, which the committee did not have. Smith says that what he told Sims was that all candidates should have been told their names would be released publicly if they became finalists. The names are released.

    3 finalists fail to disclose work history issues. Of the three finalists for the job, two are not state-certified to run elections, The State reports May 4 after checking the backgrounds of the three finalists. The third candidate, Howard Jackson, is certified, but fails to tell Richland officials that he and his Orangeburg elections office were once the subject of a state elections probe.

    Failure to reopen process. After two of the three finalists drop out, Pete Kennedy, a poll clerk, tells elections board members that if they hire Jackson, the remaining candidate “by default,” it will further damage the public’s confidence in the elections office. The elections board does not reopen the application process, The State reports May 7-9. Elections board members say they are continuing to review Jackson’s background. They name him the new director May 15.

    Jackson fails to disclose all jobs; county human resources office fails to learn of jobs during background search. The State newspaper reports today that Jackson works three jobs and is also a licensed real estate agent. Jackson disclosed two of those jobs during Richland’s interview process. But he didn’t mention he is a licensed real estate salesman or that he works 40 hours per week for a charity in addition to the 37.5 hours he spends in his elections job. Neither the county human resources office nor the elections board itself learned of the additional jobs during background searches.

  • How Jackson’s hours add up The current workweek of new Richland County elections director Howard Jackson, according to documents he filed with the county and the federal government:

    37.5 hours as Orangeburg County’s elections director

    16 hours as an Air Force reservist in Charleston

    40 hours as CEO of the charity HoJac Enterprises Inc.

    Total = 93.5 hours (not including any work he might do as a real estate salesman)

    Unknown As yet undetermined about Howard Jackson’s job with Richland County:

    • How much he will be paid (between $75,000 and $85,000)

    • When he will start

    • Whether he will move to Richland County

    • Whether he will give up some of his jobs to focus on Richland County’s needs

— Howard Jackson, the incoming elections director for Richland County, apparently works two other jobs in addition to being the current director of the Orangeburg Voter Registration and Elections office.

According to federal records and Jackson’s application for his new Richland post, Jackson now works at least 93 hours a week.

And Jackson’s 93-hour workweek doesn’t include any hours he might work as a licensed real estate salesman with Dorman Realty in Cordova, a small town in Orangeburg County.

Getting a new Richland County elections director who can devote full time to the job is vital, county officials say, since the county last November had one of the most bungled elections in modern state history.

Richland election officials reached by The State newspaper said they knew Jackson worked as an Air Force reservist 16 hours a week in addition to his full-time Orangeburg elections job. But they said they didn’t know he had other work commitments, including the 40 hours a week he told the federal government he works at a charity he founded.

His extended workweek isn’t the only thing Jackson had not disclosed. Earlier this month, The State newspaper reported that he had not told Richland officials that his Orangeburg elections office had been the subject of a state probe. Jackson said at the time he didn’t think it was necessary, since the probe turned up no wrongdoing, even though, according to documents, office employees had asked state officials to investigate him specifically.

Jackson could not be reached last week to discuss his jobs, how he will handle such a workload, what he might give up or where he plans to live.

On the one occasion last week when a reporter reached Jackson on his cellphone, Jackson told him to call back in two hours. But after that, Jackson did not answer his cellphone or return messages left at his various work locations.

According to public records, Jackson’s jobs and working hours are:

• Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections director. He works 37.5 hours a week and makes $45,000 a year, according to his application for the Richland County job.

• U.S. Air Force reservist at the Joint Base in Charleston. As a sergeant, he works 16 hours a week there and makes $10,800 a year, according to his application.

• CEO of HoJac Enterprises Inc., a tax-exempt group operated out of Jackson’s house on Essex Drive in Orangeburg. In this job, he works 40 hours a week – more than he works at his Orangeburg elections job – and doesn’t draw compensation, according to publicly available IRS tax records. This job wasn’t listed on his application to be elections director of Richland County.

• Real estate salesman at Dorman Realty in Orangeburg County. No information was available on how much he works at this job. According to the S.C. Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation, Jackson’s active state license as a real estate salesman does not expire until 2015. Jackson did not list his real estate job or credentials in his Richland County application.

HoJac still active?

The State newspaper left messages for Jackson at his elections office in Orangeburg, at his real estate job at Dorman Realty, at his HoJac job in Orangeburg and on his cellphone.

The newspaper repeatedly tried to leave a message at the Air Force Reserve number listed on Jackson’s application, but no one answered at that number and there was no voice mail.

On HoJac Enterprises’ website, it says that in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the group participated in the S.C. State Housing Authority’s Emergency Repair and Owner-Occupied Rehab program.

The website also says HoJac will be accepting applications for the 2013 Homeowner Rehabilitation Program. This government program “offers a deferred forgivable loan to be used to repair dwellings suitable for rehabilitation that contain house code deficiencies,” according to the website.

In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, HoJac took in a total of $135,182 in contributions, gifts, grants and government fees and contracts, according to the group’s IRS Form 990.

That year, it made $129,032 in payments to unidentified people for “professional fees and other payments to independent contractors,” according to the Form 990. It could not be determined from the Form 990 if one of the unidentified people who got professional fees was Jackson.

And also that year, HoJac completed 14 rehabilitation projects for 14 low-income elderly residents, according to its Form 990.

As new director of the Richland County Elections and Voter Registration office, Jackson will make $75,000 to $85,000, interim elections director Jasper Salmon said last week.

Allen Dowdy, chairman of the county Board of Elections and Voter Registration, said last week that negotiations are under way with Jackson to finalize matters such as salary, when he will report to work and where the board will require him to live.

On May 15, the board voted 3-1 to hire Jackson after the two other finalists for the job removed themselves from the running. The two stepped aside days after The State newspaper reported that Richland board members did not know that neither was certified to run an election, and that Jackson and his office had been investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division for election irregularities in 2008.

SLED found no wrongdoing in Jackson’s case. However, some board members said they were dismayed that Jackson had not told them about the controversy during the interview process.

The board is hiring Jackson, but a citizens committee screened him and some 30 other applicants for the post. Richland County Human Resources director Dwight Hanna oversaw background checks on applicants on behalf of the group. Hanna was not available last week for comment.

Dowdy indicated Jackson’s hiring and a final contract have not yet been finalized.

“We are still in the process of setting that up,” Dowdy said. “I don’t want to give any information until everything has been signed and finalized by him.”

However, Dowdy said, “It’s going to be very soon.”

Asked about Jackson’s various jobs, Dowdy said he knew about two of them but wasn’t aware of the real estate and HoJac work.

“We have no such knowledge of that information,” Dowdy said. “I think it would be wise (for you) to discuss that with him.”

‘Working that out’

Dowdy did say that how much time Jackson will spend working in his new post will be settled before Jackson starts work.

“Whenever he comes aboard, there will be certain expectations of him,” Dowdy said. “We are working that out at this point.”

Asked whether Jackson will be required to live in Richland County or be allowed to commute between Columbia and Orangeburg – a nearly one-hour, 42-mile commute each way – Dowdy said that matter is still being negotiated with Jackson.

Asked if the board expected Jackson to commit full time to his Richland County elections job, Dowdy said, “That’s the reason why he’s being hired.”

Jackson will have a steep learning curve, Dowdy said, in large part because Richland County is so much bigger than Orangeburg County. Orangeburg has some 64,000 voters and 55 polling places. Richland has 244,721 voters and 124 polling places.

Asked if Jackson will be allowed to continue to spend 40 hours a week working at HoJac, Dowdy said, “I would not think so.”

State Rep. Jimmy Bales, D-Richland, one of four people on the committee that screened some 30 applicants, said he knew about Jackson’s Air Force Reserve job and that it would be fine for Jackson to continue his military service.

“He was going to work there two weekends a month, and have two weeks training sometime during the year,” Bales said.

He said committee members were fine with the military moonlighting job because it seemed manageable, it was patriotic and a lot of workers do that. “I think you’re entitled to serve in the National Guard or Reserve.”

But Bales said he had no knowledge about Jackson’s real estate or HoJac work.

“He couldn’t do those in Orangeburg if he comes up here,” Bales said. “We told him it (the Richland job) wouldn’t be a 40-hour week, but maybe a 60-hour week until we got everything straightened out.”

As to where Jackson would live, Bales said, “My understanding, when we talked to him, was that he would move to Columbia within a reasonable time and he would live in Richland County.”

Overall, Bales said, Jackson impressed the screening committing as a “real energetic and dynamic person, and that he was a no-nonsense manager – that he would take charge.”

Dowdy said the Elections Board wants to make sure it gets the best elections director possible, especially after last November’s bungled election.

“We are working to restore the trust and confidence and integrity in the citizens here in Richland County,” Dowdy said.

Bales said he was sure Dowdy’s board would make sure Jackson comes to work and spends time at the office.

“They aren’t going to hire a guy who works three other jobs and just stops by occasionally,” Bales said.


Document: Howard Jackson's real estate license

Jackson's job application

Jackson's charity tax returns

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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