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Richland elections office to get apology money from county

Poll workers lined up in November to deliver Richland County election results to the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office at 2020 Hampton St.
Poll workers lined up in November to deliver Richland County election results to the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office at 2020 Hampton St. FILE PHOTOGRAPH

The Richland County elections office will get $434,000 added to its budget in the wake of an apology from the county administrator over false accusations he made last year.

County Council on Tuesday gave initial approval to awarding the elections office $433,988 for the current fiscal year, which ends July 1. The first of three required votes is the beginning of council fulfilling a promise it made last month during budget meetings.

Tuesday’s vote follows a May 26 apology letter from county administrator Gerald Seals, which he later acknowledged publicly during a June council meeting.

“My (Sept. 20) report painted a picture of budgetary mismanagement that I now know was inaccurate. I apologize,” Seals wrote in the letter to Adell Adams, chairwoman of the county’s Board of Elections & Voter Registration. “I received information from finance (the county’s finance department) that the elections office would have an approximately $400,000 budget overrun. ... Staff has determined that was not the truth.”

In September, Seals slammed the elections office during council’s discussion about paying a $38,000 legal bill from an attorney who sued the office and won in court.

Seals called the payment of the bill a “raid” of county money and said it violated policies, principles and the law.

“This is a unit that habitually exceeds its budget,” he said of the elections board during that discussion. Seals called the board’s actions “malfeasance” and “spoiled-brat stuff,” with the board expecting the county to cover its deficit.

Rokey Suleman, the newly appointed director of the elections office, in early June complained to council that it has not provided his agency with enough money to do its job of registering voters and running elections.

Just in the past three years, council has given it $2.7 million less than the agency requested, according to Suleman’s figures contained in a June 6 letter to council members.

That shortfall created a $1 million deficit compared to what the elections office actually spent during 2015, 2016 and the 2017 fiscal year that ended June 30, Suleman’s data show.

“The agency requests a certain amount for necessary operation, and the county disregards history and operational needs and approves a much lower number,” the director wrote of what he called shortfalls.

“The agency is not overspending. It fails to receive sufficient operating revenue,” Suleman’s letter states.

The elections office asked for $1.9 million this fiscal year and did not get the money it wanted from council.

And without more money for the new year, the elections office again would overspend and have to ask council again for more money by June 30, 2018, when the spending year ends, Suleman wrote.

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