Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of the top 10 local news stories from 2017, as chosen by the Commercial staff.
No other board or commission saw more drama in 2017 than the Jefferson County Election Commission.
It began shortly after 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 Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV selected former coordinator Will Fox prior to the Go Forward Pine Bluff special tax election. Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Mike Adam and Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer claimed Fox wasn’t appropriate for the job, prompting the lawsuit filed by Wilkins.
From there, things spiraled downward. At a meeting earlier this month, agenda items were not addressed due to back and forth spats between commissioners and the judge.
Election Commissioner Cynthia Sims and Soffer first clashed regarding the last meeting’s minutes, which Sims said did not include remarks made to her by Soffer. Soffer and Adam are Republicans, Sims and Wilkins are Democrats.
“I noticed you forgot to place something in the minutes,” Sims said to Soffer. “The last time we had our meeting you made a statement, and I felt like it was very disrespectful to me … I didn’t see it in these minutes. The statement that you made to me was that ‘You was tired of my s**t,’ remember? And (that) ‘I need to go somewhere.’ And no one said anything. I never disrespected you, and I feel like you were out of order.”
Later, Soffer made a crude comment to Sims after she excused herself to the ladies room. Soffer apologized in a letter to the Commercial, which was printed on the Viewpoints page, for saying “hope everything comes out OK” during the meeting.
At another meeting this month, authorities were called after Soffer and Adam engaged Election Coordinator Efrem Elliott in a shouting match. Soffer and Adam contend that Elliott is not qualified for the position and disagree with Wilkins appointing him to the job.
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. Soffer and Adam have asked that Wilkins release Elliott, a former legislator, from his duties because they contend he is not qualified for the job.
Soffer and Adam are still at odds with Elliott and Wilkins today.