December 29, 2012

Richland County election directors’ employment likely topic at Jan. 3 meeting

The future of Lillian McBride’s employment at the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office is expected to be on the agenda of a Thursday commission meeting.

The future of Lillian McBride’s employment at the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office is expected to be on the agenda of a Thursday commission meeting.

The meeting comes after a majority of the Richland County Legislative Delegation called on the board to remove McBride from the director’s position. The official agenda does not mention a discussion of McBride’s employment, but it does include an executive session, which are discussions held behind closed doors and often are used to address personnel matters.

The legislators’ demand came on Dec. 21 when 11 senators and representatives signed a resolution ordering McBride to resign. If she did not resign, the signees called on the commission’s board to meet no later than Dec. 28 with the purpose of removing McBride from office.

But Allen Dowdy, acting chairman of the Elections & Voter Registration Commission, told the delegation that it would be impossible to meet that soon because of the holidays. He promised to call a meeting by Jan. 2 or 3 to address the 11 of 16 members’ call for McBride’s removal.

The commission meeting also will include an update from Steve Hamm, the attorney hired to investigate the Nov. 6 election debacle.

Attempts to reach Dowdy on Friday were unsuccessful.

McBride was unavailable for comment because she was on a church retreat. Her attorney, John Nichols, said he had received the agenda but “no real purpose was explained.”

Nichols also declined to say whether he and McBride were trying to negotiate a settlement.

The delegation appointed McBride to run elections and voter registration. She took over the job in summer of 2011. Richland County pays McBride’s $89,124 annual salary. But the responsibility for firing her rests with Elections & Voter Registration commissioners, who are appointed by the legislative delegation.

The commission met Dec. 18 but did not take disciplinary action. That led Liz Crum, the long-time chairwoman, to step down after a two-hour closed door session in which the commission failed to act. Crum said she had lost confidence in McBride’s ability to lead the office. Crum’s resignation leaves the board with four members.

McBride has been in hot water since the election after many voters stood in line up to seven hours because there were not enough voting machines distributed throughout the county. Some voters walked away from the polls because the lines were too long. And lost ballots led to delays in determining the outcomes of some races.

The delegation’s frustration with McBride has been building slowly. The tipping point came on Dec. 19, when the delegation held a closed-door meeting with Nichols. After the meeting, at least two legislators confirmed that Nichols said his client was prepared to resign, effective Jan. 8. Reporters covering the meeting wrote stories based on those comments.

But a few hours later, McBride sent an email to the media, saying those reports were premature and erroneous.

Nichols has declined to talk about the earlier talks of McBride’s resignation, saying those discussions were supposed to be between him and the delegation.

Nichols since has filed a complaint against Rep. Todd Rutherford, who was the first to tell reporters about McBride’s planned resignation. In a letter to delegation chairman Sen. Darrell Jackson, Nichols said Rutherford’s disclosure violated the ground rules set by the delegation before the discussion began. He asked the delegation to censure or take some other form of action against Rutherford.

But Rutherford scoffed at Nichols’s complaint. He said the privilege to disclose closed door conversations lies with the elected officials.

“To file a complaint saying we broke the rules of the delegation?” Rutherford said. “We don’t have any rules.”

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