Just days after a contentious meeting that resulted in the county judge, his attorneys and the election coordinator walking out, members of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners met for round two on Friday at the Election Center downtown.
And in step with last Thursday's meeting, Commission Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer and Commission Chairman Mike Adam went toe-to-toe with election coordinator Efrem Elliott in a yelling match.
Seemingly convicted by the fallout from demeaning remarks made during last week's session, Soffer started the meeting by offering an apology to Commissioner Cynthia Sims. After an argument with Sims during which she got up to go to the restroom, Soffer told her, “hope everything comes out okay.”
“At the last meeting, I made a comment,” Soffer said. “It was a bad joke, actually, and while it would've been appropriate up north — it's not appropriate down here, and I apologize for making that crack to Commissioner Sims as she was leaving the table so she didn't have to listen to us.”
Going back and forth about rules when offering public comment, Adam finally allowed Elliott to speak for two minutes on an agenda item related to terminating Elliott as coordinator.
“Since I have been the coordinator, the majority of the commission has chose not to work with me,” Elliott said. “They have sent lying emails in reference to me that has no credit (and) there was an email sent today stating that I gave some information to you guys late, which was false. So, I just wanted to make sure I myself came up as the coordinator and stated what the truth was. So, I'm not going to let anyone besmirch my reputation or my name.”
Elliott was not given a chance to provide a coordinator's report as a part of the agenda, despite telling The Commercial he had one to present and contradictory to Adam's statements.
“We didn't get a coordinator's report,” Adam said to Sims when she asked if he would be allowed to present one. “I have had no reports from him, and I see no reason for him to report.”
A few of the items on the meeting's agenda were carried over from last week, including authorization of an election clerk, school election invoices and security camera access.
“As we have previously discussed, we have asked (Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV) for assistance (so) that we can actually get some things done, and we've asked for Miss (Julie) Kendrick to be approved (as commission secretary),” Adam said. “He did that orally to me on the telephone … but we have still not had that authorization.”
And although dealing with school election invoices was a task given to Elliott from Adam, Soffer took it upon himself to complete it. According to Soffer, the invoices total to about $26,000, which was unanimously approved by the board.
“Our lawyer said it was a statutory obligation (and) it wasn't prepared by the coordinator, and he said to me to just go ahead and do it and get it over with because we're coming up on year-end closeout,” Soffer said. “I notified the school districts, so they can set up an accounts payable, and then I notified the treasurer, and she can anticipate the money coming back into the general fund.”
In strong opposition to accessing the security cameras after being asked to view them as a group by Adam, Sims said it wasn't a part of her job, but instead the coordinator's duty.
“If you guys want to do it, that's fine,” Sims said to Adam and Soffer.
After the board wrapped up old items on the agenda, they moved on to new business, including employee bonuses, termination of the coordinator, generating a Facebook page for the board and a local church's wall, which received damage during a previous election while serving as a polling site.
Referencing a recent article from The Commercial staff, Soffer and Adam expressed concern about the possibility of the judge presenting bonuses to former election coordinator Will Fox and Elliott.
“We have two employees that are currently receiving payment out of our budget over our objections,” Soffer said. “So, I believe we should notify the county judge that their work has not been satisfactory and they certainly should not receive bonuses.”
Soffer also added that during his time on the board when they did have “employees that were performing outstanding,” they tried to give them bonuses but couldn't, noting that Sims was against the approval of it. The motion to make the recommendation to the county judge was approved by a majority, while Sims opposed it.
Next up was the termination of Elliott.
Based on an unfavorable job performance as described by Adam and Soffer, Soffer made a motion to recommend that the judge terminate him. Before taking the vote, Soffer revealed that he found out Elliott was juggling more than just a full-time job along with his duties as election coordinator.
“I think I got the part of the problem why the coordinator's been a ghost employee,” Soffer said. “Apparently, the coordinator holds a second county job at recycling for 35 hours a week. Now, when the coordinator was hired, I expressed concern that he was already (a) full-time police chief with Gould, and now I learn or at least this week that he is also a 35-hour employee at recycling, which explains why no work is getting done or has been performed on seven tasks you (Adam) gave him here.”
Soffer made a motion “based on the unsatisfactory job performance,” coupled with him “being less than truthful on certain issues,” to ask the judge to terminate his employment. The vote was approved even though Sims opposed the motion.
“We ask the county judge to please comply with the court order and bring in somebody that can do the statutory stuff like school election and also start preparing for the next election cycle…,” Soffer said.
Troubled by the approval of his termination and Soffer's allegations, Elliott fired back with his own.
“What I'm asking is for you to give me a public apology and you resign as the chairman, that's what I'm asking you right now,” he said to Adam. “I'm asking you to give me a public apology for lying, being disrespectful and racist. I want you to give me a public apology, and I want you to resign right now as the chairman.”
Elliott, Sims and Wilkins are black. Soffer and Adam are white.
As Soffer and Adam tried to gain back control of the meeting, they adjourned for nearly ten minutes in an effort to get a deputy sheriff to restore order. While residents waited for the meeting to start, they stared on as Elliott continued.
“You, sir, are a disgrace to your Republican party, and you're also a disgrace to Jefferson County because you are trying to rig this election and you said it,” Elliott said. “It came out of your mouth that you were trying to do this stuff… I'm sick of this racist stuff that you do. You've been doing it so long, and I'm sick of it and I'm tired of it.”
All the while, Adam continued to ask Soffer about calling the police while ignoring Elliott's call for his resignation and formal apology. Meanwhile, Soffer stood in Elliott's face while talking on the phone trying to block his view of Adam.
“Again, I don't know what his problem is why he feels the need to come up in people's face and threaten them, and that was a threatening matter to me,” Elliott said. “But, I stood my ground. He is the one who approached me and came up in my face when I was talking and trying to defend myself against the lies.”
Mayor Lafayette Woods Jr. of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office showed up in response to the disturbance via a phone call from Soffer. However, he did not sit in on the meeting or remove Elliott. Woods stated that he called Sheriff Gerald Robinson to brief him on the matter, and the two agreed on the matter of not removing Elliott.
“Due in part to our knowledge of the historical discord between members of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners and the election coordinators, we did not feel it appropriate nor justifiable to remove the election coordinator as he was present at the meeting in his official capacity by authority of the county judge,” Woods said.
After cooler heads seemed to prevail, the meeting started again with only a couple more items to discuss, including creating a Facebook page for the board, which Sims was not in favor of.
“I think we can use it to link to minutes, to link to procedure manuals, to link to the state board rules,” Soffer said. “We can post polling places on it. It's all sorts of things we can link to.”
In following with the other motions, Sims was outvoted. No motion was made on the agenda item concerning a local church's wall as it was agreed that more research was needed on the matter.