Howard Jackson takes over as Richland Countys new elections chief in about two weeks, ending a controversial selection process and the public fallout from one of the most botched elections in state history.
Jackson, 43, whos led the Orangeburg County elections office for the past five years, will be paid $78,000, according to a news release from the county Office of Elections & Voter Registration. He also has agreed to move to Richland County.
Jackson will start June 24 and, like all new county employees, will be on probation his first year on the job.
He replaces former elections director Lillian McBride, who was demoted amid voter frustration over the Nov. 6 election. Citizens waited hours to vote because of a bewildering shortage of voting machines. Jacksons hiring was announced Wednesday by the county elections board.
While some say Jackson will have a hard time restoring the publics trust, others say he deserves a chance to prove himself.
Poll clerk Pete Kennedy said the legislative delegation should have used its influence to pressure the county elections board which it appoints to begin the hiring process anew once two other finalists dropped out, leaving Jackson the sole candidate for the job.
The legislative delegation, they made up the bed and now theyve got to lie in it, Kennedy said Wednesday. There are going to be issues that come up where honesty and trust are going to come into play. They will. You wait and see.
Questions were raised about Jackson after The State reported hed been the focus of a SLED investigation over the distribution and collection of absentee ballots shortly after taking the Orangeburg County job. The agency found no criminal wrongdoing, but the fact that Jackson did not reveal the probe during his job interviews raised red flags for some.
And while Jackson was forthright about working 16 hours a week as an Air Force reservist, in addition to his full-time elections post in Orangeburg County, he did not disclose his full-time job as CEO of HoJac Enterprises, a charity he founded and runs from his home that helps repair houses for needy seniors. He also is a licensed real estate salesman.
Audrey Snead, longtime poll clerk in Ward 9 until this year, said legislators dont need to be involved in the running of the elections office. Since Richland County pays the bills, she said, it should maintain authority over the office.
Snead and Rep. Jimmy Bales, who served on the search committee naming Jackson a finalist, said Jackson deserves a chance to prove his mettle.
Next time we have an election, well know, Bales said.
Efforts to reach Jackson Wednesday were unsuccessful, but interim director Jasper Salmond said the new director will be expected to work full time, or 371/2 hours a week. The understanding and the expectation is that it would not be less than the normal day thats worked by employees.
The elections board will negotiate with Jackson on a timeframe for his move to Richland County, Salmond added.
Jackson will lead an office of 14 full-time employees with an annual budget of $1.2 million an amount County Council refused to increase for the coming year.
Chairman Kelvin Washington said hes satisfied with the decision to hire Jackson. Ive got high expectations so we can put all this behind us and move on.
Washington said the elections office has done a good job of getting back on track.
Elections-board member Adell Adams said two elections held since November prove the competency of the office: a municipal election in Forest Acres, and this weeks special election for a seat on the Richland 1 school board.
In January, McBride, who oversaw the Nov. 6 election, was demoted to deputy director of voter registration. Her salary was cut from $89,100 to $74,600.
Poor planning and insufficient numbers of voting machines resulted in waits of up to seven hours for many of the countys voters, with countless others leaving in frustration without casting a ballot.
From Richland Countys employee handbook:
All new employees (except temporaries) including former employees who have been rehired, are considered to be on probation for the first twelve months. This period is a continuation of the selection process and is a time in which the new employee should make extra effort to demonstrate that he/she is well suited for his/her job. If the Department Head concludes at any time during the probation period that the new employee is not well suited for the position, the employee may be terminated or may be placed on extended probation if approved by the County Administrator.
The probationary period ends successfully when the Department Head, not sooner than one year after the employee was hired, evaluates the new employee in writing and authorizes taking him/her off of their initial probationary status.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.