State auditor studying payroll documents for election panel member

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 9, 2003

[10/8/03]Documents a Warren County election commission member submitted to get paid have been requested by the State Auditor’s Office.

A representative of Auditor Phil Bryant’s office has asked to see time records filed by District 3 Election Commissioner LaShondra Stewart, county payroll clerk Catherine Bright confirmed Tuesday.

Bright said the investigator told her he was responding to a complaint. Bryant spokesman Pete Smith, however, said the office could “neither confirm nor deny” that a complaint had been received or that an investigation was under way.

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Stewart did not return calls to her home telephone.

For about a year, commissioners have operated under essentially an honor system for reporting hours they work. Before that, county chairmen had to sign the monthly hours-worked sheets.

Warren County chairman James McMullin of District 4 said he knew that the investigation into the complaint had begun, but that he would not comment on it. The other three commissioners also could not be reached.

“I have no way of knowing when the others work,” he said.

Under state law, one commissioner is elected from each supervisor district. The jobs are part-time jobs and pay is limited to $70 a day for up to 100 days a year. More days are allowed in years, such as this one, when multiple elections are held. To get credit for a day worked, a commissioner must log at least five hours.

Warren County Chancery Clerk Dot McGee said checks for commissioners are issued based on the time sheets only.

“They’re elected officials just like we are,” McGee said, adding that she believed that to be the consensus position of the board of supervisors. “There’s no oversight that I know anything about” at the county level.

Board of Supervisors President Richard George of District 5 agreed. He also said he was aware that an investigation had begun inside the county’s government.

“Whatever questions he asks, he’ll get answers,” he said of an investigator from the auditor’s department he said visited the courthouse last week.

Stewart has been paid for 100 days this year, according to chancery clerk’s office records, which identify her by her former last name, Williams. The other four commissioners have been paid for 80 to 112 days, records showed.

The commission is responsible for maintaining county voter rolls throughout the year, conducting elections and certifying election results. It is also their job, in a redistricting year, to reassign voters to different districts and precincts, where needed, and to make sure appropriate ballots are provided to polling places. A lot of checking and cross-checking is required.

“We’ve got our hands full,” McMullin said. “I could work eight hours a day, five days a week up there.”

McMullin said that, as chairman, he distributes the work among the commissioners, but he doesn’t necessarily know how much work each commissioner actually performs. The commission is accountable as a group, not as individuals, he added.

“If the work is not done, it reflects on all five commissioners,” McMullin said. “If we see work on anybody’s desk that needs to be done, we do it.”

Other election commissioners are Johnny Brewer in District 1, Retha Summers in District 2 and Gordon Carr in District 5.

Smith said that for the auditor to investigate a complaint it must be specific and must include contact information for its sender.

Election commissioners are chosen during presidential election years for four-year terms. Elections for all five seats will be in 2004.