After initially rejecting Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV’s choice for election coordinator, the County Board of Election Commissioners reversed course Thursday, but with strings attached.
Wilkins selected former state representative and current Gould Police Chief Efrem Elliott as coordinator, but Commission Chairman Mike Adam and Commission Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer turned down Elliott at a previous meeting, while Commissioner Cynthia Sims voted to use him.
Both Adam and Soffer are Republicans, and Wilkins and Sims are Democrats. When Elliott ran for election, he ran as a Democrat.
Last week, with Sims absent, Adam and Soffer discussed using Elliott to perform administrative duties but did not vote because they thought it was appropriate to wait for her to return. According to minutes of that meeting, Elliott is currently on the county payroll as election coordinator and is being paid $32,400 annually but has no duties.
On Thursday, with Sims present, Adam raised the subject saying that “there are a lot of things that need to be done,” mentioning things like picking up mail, ensuring that bills received are properly prepared for payment, and the like. Sims agreed to introduce a motion to accept Elliott with the condition that he performs only those duties assigned to him by the commission.
That wording goes along with a court order from Circuit Judge Robert Wyatt, who earlier this year ruled that the commission could not prevent a coordinator from having access to the county election office or having the tools he needs to do his job, but left up to the commission whether or not they would use the services of that coordinator.
The issue came up after Wilkins selected former coordinator Will Fox prior to the Go Forward Pine Bluff special tax election. Adam and Soffer refused to use Fox, prompting the lawsuit filed by Wilkins.
“As I see the role of the election coordinator, that person functions as a staff person to help the commission perform its assigned duties,” Wilkins said. “Put simply, to function as an agent for the commission.”
Soffer also expressed concern about Elliott’s position as police chief in Gould, saying he could not “be in two places at the same time,” going on to say that since he has been a member of the commission, no coordinator has held another full time job.
He also asked Wilkins about that and if he had talked to Elliott about his other position.
“That discussion would be moot unless the election commission confirms him as coordinator,” Wilkins said. “We will set that discussion aside until you take action.”
After approving Elliott, he was given a list of duties prepared by Adam, which, among other things, said that Fox is “not to be a part of the performance of your duties within the election office building.”
The list also included various housekeeping tasks such as restocking polling site satchels, sort through old election materials, determining the number of functioning voting machines and conducting an inventory of things like “I Voted” stickers, voter sign-in sheets and etc.